Defense Minister Nikos Dendias on Friday provided more details over a pending EU military mission in the Red Sea under a Greek command, as well as this month’s approval by Washington of Athens’ request to purchase F-35 fighter planes and other armaments-related programs.

Speaking during an interview with a state-run broadcaster, he said the F-35 warplanes are a weapon that must be acquired when deemed necessary, in order to cover the country’s defense needs. “The F-35 serve our national needs,” he added.

Queried over the number of warplanes to be acquired, he said the air force general staff and the entire armed forces leadership will brief political leaders as to what is necessary to serve Greece’s dogma of deterrence. An understanding, in principle, has Athens seeking 20 F-35s, with an option to purchase another 20.

“Our fiscal space is our ‘holy gospel’, it’s what the country can afford,” he added.

Dendias, the previous foreign minister and among the more candid Cabinet members in the Mitsotakis government, again directly referred to Turkey in discussing the advanced fighter planes, saying that “it would be very bad for Greece if Turkey had F-35s and Greece didn’t”.

Asked about an under-performing domestic defense industry, Dendias merely said a more long-term planning is needed, allowing for co-production and the prospect of maintenance of weapons systems.

In response the recent report in the Athens daily “Ta Nea” citing joint Greece-Turkish patrols in the Aegean to stem migrant smuggling attempts, Dendias merely said the shipping ministry is responsible for coast guard operations, and that he has no information on the above.

Referring to the proposed transfer of three Freedom-class LCS-type frigates from the US Navy to the Hellenic Navy, he said “they are corvettes and they need additional (weapons) systems. We are looking into whether we can install them. We’ve said that these ships interest us as a cost-free concession, and as an interim solution until we acquire a next generation frigate.”

Along those same lines, he cited the possibility of acquiring and co-producing Constellation-class frigates, saying “we are talking with the Americans about the production of up to seven, again in Greek shipyards and with the possibility of those shipyards maintaining the Constellations”.

Asked about Turkey’s procurement of new F-16s and if the Greek side will press Washington to include a clause prohibiting Ankara from using the warplanes to threaten another NATO member-state, i.e. Greece, Dendias said the foreign ministry was solely responsible to comment.

“Turkey has changed its behavior (of late), but it has not suddenly changed its positions. The existence of a reliable deterrence mechanism is an existential necessity for our country. There is no guarantee for us, we must prepare for the worst because that is the only way to avoid the worst. A re-warming of Turkey-United States ties concerns these two countries…Greece must explain, and always points out to the United States the absurdity of the Turkish positions in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean,” he stressed.

Red Sea mission

In response to media reports claiming abrupt retirement applications and resignations by up to 17 officers and NCOs of a Hellenic Navy frigate (HN Hydra) set to participate in the EU’s “Aspides” mission in the Red Sea against Houthi attacks on shipping, Dendias merely said a conflict-zone benefit will be allocated, “which obviously doesn’t reflect the risk involved.”

He also said the EU’s mission and the US-led “Prosperity Guardian” operation will overlap and be in contact. “We operate as a member of the EU. We’re going for Greek and European interests.”