Knappast. Turkarna har som hobby att olagligt flyga över t.ex. Grekland.
Turkey plans to buy a total of 100 F-35 jet fighters. | Getty
7/23/15, 5:30 AM CET
Turkish fighter jets and military helicopters have dramatically increased their incursions into Greek airspace, according to a study based on data from the Greek military, forcing the cash-strapped Greek air force to respond.
On July 15, six Turkish fighters crossed into Greek airspace 20 times. Their visit followed aerial intrusions by Turkish military helicopters the week before. After a several years of declining numbers, Turkish air incursions into territory claimed by Greece are soaring, and so are the resulting aerial confrontations with the Hellenic Air Force.
“The main reason for the [conflict] is sovereignty concerns over the Aegean region,” said Mustafa Kutlay, an assistant professor at TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Ankara.
Turkey and Greece, he added, recognize each other’s claim to a six nautical mile-wide zone of the Aegean Sea, but Turkey worries that Greece might try to extend that to the full 12 miles permitted under international treaties. This would largely block Turkey from the Aegean. Furthermore, Greece claims 10 miles of air space around the islands, while Turkey recognizes only six miles and argues that its fighters are flying in international air space.
A question of sovereignty
“The Turks are trying to enforce sovereignty over disputed islands and bring Greece to the negotiating table,” said Thanos Dokos, director-general of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy. “What’s worrying are the low-altitude flights, often by helicopters, over these islands.”
Many of the incidents take place within the contentious four-mile radius near the Turkish coast, which Athens considers its territory and Ankara calls international airspace. Below the contested skies are equally disputed waters featuring a group of 16 islands, over which Greece claims sovereignty.
Recently, however, Turkey has become more vocal in rejecting those claims. The June and July incursions again took place above these tiny islets, including Farmakonisi (population 74), Kounelonisi, and Agathonisi. (By virtue of an agreement signed in 1952, Greece administers the disputed airspace for civilian aviation.)
Greece’s Ministry of Defense did not respond to a request for information and comment, but according to statistics collected by Christos Kollias, a Greek defense economist at the University of Thessaly, last year Turkish military helicopters and planes violated Greek-claimed airspace 2,244 times. For this May, Kollias recorded 361 Turkish incursions into Greek airspace.
At the beginning of this decade, Turkish planes entered Greek airspace several hundred times per year, including a record-low 636 times in 2013. That, in turn, was a decline from higher figures in the preceding years, but even the 1,678 incursions in 2009 do not approach the current activity. The result is constant hostile buzzing in the Mediterranean skies as the Hellenic Air Force responds to the intrusions.
“The political rapprochement between two countries [in the early 2000s] and the Greek economic crisis contributed to the decreasing number of dogfights,” noted Kutlay, who is also director of the EU Studies Center at USAK, a Turkish think-tank focusing on security and cooperation. “But the changing security environment in the region seems to have struck a sensitive nerve, and Turkey and Greece have become more sensitive vis-à-vis each other over the Aegean region.”
Dogfights cost money
In its current weakened state Greece hardly poses much of a threat to Turkey. The Turkish General Staff has not given an official reason for its increased air activity, and its spokesman referred inquiries to a local defense attaché, who did not respond.
Greece’s disastrous finances may, however, have encouraged Turkey to tease its long-time foe (and NATO ally) a bit more than usual, as every Hellenic Air Force scramble costs Greece precious euros.
“In the case of air incursions, you have to react,” said Dokos. “It’s very hard to unilaterally pull back from a situation of military aggression. It’s a tragic situation, because the money we’re spending on dogfights with Turkey is money that we could have spent on other areas of defense.”
The confrontations are a serious matter for both for Athens and Ankara. The two countries almost went to war in 1987 and again in 1996. In 2006 a mock dogfight saw Turkish and Greek F-16s smash into each other, killing the Greek pilot.
The issue is about more than pride. Recent large gas discoveries by Cyprus and Israel have shown that there are lucrative potential deposits under the Mediterranean. Greece is also exploring the possibility of claiming a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone around the country. Because Greece controls almost all of the islands in the Aegean, such a move could turn the sea into a Greek lake.
Soon after taking office this January, Greece’s nationalist Defense Minister Panos Kammenos traveled to one of the disputed islets, while Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz claimed in Parliament that the islands in fact belong to Turkey. And this May, Kammenos proposed building a NATO base on one of the islands so that the alliance could “gain a full overview of Turkey’s behavior in the region.”
Neither Athens nor Ankara can stomach backing down over the Aegean.
Turkey is in the midst of an extremely ambitious air force modernization program that has already seen it upgrade its existing fleet of over 100 F-16 fighter jets. In January, the government approved the purchase of four new F-35 Lockheed Martin fighter jets as well as five Boeing Chinook helicopters; it plans to buy a total of 100 F-35s.
This spring the government also approved a multi-billion dollar program for the development of fighter planes and a regional jet for civilian and military use. The country plans to build several hundred planes by 2023.
Meanwhile, Greece’s military has seen spending shrivel in recent years, and the government had to fend off demands from Greece’s creditors for more steep cuts during recent bailout negotiations.
“Turkey’s geostrategic position in a volatile region has influenced tactics and doctrine,” explained Gareth Jennings, aviation desk editor at IHS Jane’s, the defense consultancy. “There’s particular emphasis on the air-to-air role, deriving largely from differences with Greece over unresolved sovereignty claims in the Aegean.”
Yet in recent years the ancient enemies have tried to improve business relations. Last month, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu even offered to help Greece with its financial crisis.
But despite their friendlier civilian relations, neither Athens nor Ankara can stomach backing down over the Aegean.