With an eye on Turkey, Greece opens Israeli-built flight school

By DEREK GATOPOULOS

KALAMATA, Greece (AP) — Greece on Friday launched operations of a new international pilot training center created in partnership with Israel, as it tries to capitalize on its relative airpower advantage over its rival. regional, Turkey.

Israeli defense firm Elbit, which finalized a $1.65 billion deal with the Israeli-backed Greek government last year, will help run the facility at an Israeli army base. outside the city of Kalamata in southern Greece.

Greece is undertaking an armed forces modernization program largely focused on its air force, as it hopes to overtake Turkey. Athens is acquiring advanced French-built Rafale jets, modernizing its aging fleet of F-16 fighter jets and seeking to join the United States’ F-35 aircraft program.

Turkey was excluded from the F-35 program after its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system.

NATO members Greece and Turkey remain at odds over maritime borders and the military presence on the eastern Greek islands that Ankara maintains violates international treaties.

The new training center began operating on Friday with 14 of the planned 25 T-6 single-engine turboprop aircraft. The fleet is expected to expand next year with the delivery of 19 Italian-made M-346 trainers equipped with onboard virtual avionics that simulate combat and flight scenarios.

Although the flight school officially opened on Friday, it won’t be fully operational until early 2024, Elbit officials said.

Major General Georgios Vagenas, commander of the Greek Air Force Training Command, said the T-6 aircraft would provide 7,000 hours of flight training per year, while the M jets -346 would provide 3,500 hours.

“These facilities will prepare fighter squadrons for the generation of fighter aircraft that the Air Force has recently acquired,” Vagenas said. “This will be the primary mechanism to counter threats…coming from our neighbor to the east.”

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