Dassault Aviation officially delivered the first Rafale to the Hellenic Air Force on Wednesday. The occasion was commemorated with a ceremony at Dassault’s Flight Test Center in Istres, with Dassault Aviation CEO and Chairman Eric Trappier, Greek Minister of National Defense Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, Chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff General Konstantinos Floros and Chief of the Hellenic Air Force General Staff Lieutenant General Georgios Bliloumis in attendance among other guests.
Delivery of the twin-seat Rafale comes just six months after the Greek government signed official contracts for the purchase of 18 Rafales and support equipment for them. In response to press inquiries, Panagiotopoulos stated that this first Rafale will remain at the flight test center for two to three more weeks so that its aircrew can complete their training in France, and allow for the next batch of four Greek pilots to commence their training. The Rafales will be deployed at Tanagra Air Force Base north of Athens, with the first six aircraft including this one to be stationed there by the end of the year. A further six Rafales will be delivered in 2022, with the final six delivered in 2023.
Dassault says that the first group of Greek pilots has already been training with the French Air and Space Force for several months, while 50 Greek technicians are to join Dassault’s Conversion Training Center in Merignac, France for further training on Rafale maintenance. The company says that the next five Rafales to be delivered will be taken from French Air and Space Force inventory.
Speaking at the ceremony, Trappier said:
“Following the Mirage F1 in 1974, the Mirage 2000 in 1985 and the Mirage 2000-5 in 2000, the Rafale is now proudly flying with the Hellenic Air Force colors. The Rafale is a strategic game changer for the HAF. It will play an active role by securing Greece’s leadership as a major regional power. I would like to reaffirm our total commitment to the success of the Rafale in Greece.”
In his speech, Panagiotopoulos said that the procurement of the Rafales had “multiplied” both the firepower and power projection capabilities of the Greek Air Force, boosting the Greek military’s combat capability and ability to deter potential threats. He stated that the procurement underlined the “strategic” nature of Greek-French relations, in particular French support for Greece when facing “challenges and threats”, demonstrating the two countries’ determination to further strengthen not only bilateral relations, but cooperation for stability and prosperity in the wider Eastern Mediterranean through participation in regional European Union and NATO defence initiatives.
Trappier and Panagiotopoulos had met prior to the ceremony, with the Greek Defense Ministry saying that they had “exchanged views on issues of common interest”. Panagiotopoulos was quoted as saying that French Air and Space Force leadership and Dassault Aviation officials were impressed with the speed of the Rafale procurement, with the minister adding that it had “already” changed the balance of power in the Mediterranean.