The Hellenic Air Force is a major European operator of the F-16, including the advanced Block 52+ version. Paul Dunn looks at the history of the type in Greek service, with the help of former F-16 Demo Team pilot Capt Manolis Karahalios.
Over the last 25 years, Greece has built up a large fleet of around 170 F-16s, with aircraft being purchased in four distinct batches. Although Greece is an important member of NATO, much of this force has been amassed in response to its Aegean neighbour (and fellow NATO ally) Turkey, also a significant operator of the F-16. Territorial disagreements between the two nations have often led to tensions running high in the region, and the US in particular has been careful to supply both countries with similar military hardware, in order to maintain the balance of power.
The first batch of F-16s were acquired by the Hellenic Air Force in the late 1980s, under the Peace Xenia I FMS (foreign military sales) programme. The order was for 40 Block 30 F-16C/D aircraft, which replaced Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighters. The aircraft were delivered in 1989-90, and painted in a unique (for the F-16 at least) three tone green/grey camouflage scheme.
A follow up order was agreed in 1993, with a further 40 F-16C/Ds delivered under Peace Xenia II in 1997-98. Aircraft from this batch were built to the more advanced Block 50 standard.
After a plan in the late ’90s to purchase upgraded, ex-USAF Block 30 jets came to nought, the Hellenic Air Force sought to modernise its fighter fleet again around the turn of the millennium. After considering several options, including the F-15H and Eurofighter Typhoon, Greece elected to return to Lockheed Martin for another batch of F-16s. Peace Xenia III was formalised in June 2000, calling for 50 F-16C/Ds, with an option (later taken up) for a further ten.
This time the aircraft were of the very latest Block 52+ standard, featuring conformal fuel tanks and additional weapons options. Of the total of 60 aircraft in the batch, 20 are F-16Ds; the two-seaters are fully combat capable and fitted with the familiar bulged dorsal spine long associated with Israeli D-models. Final delivery of F-16C/Ds came in 2009-10 (Peace Xenia IV) when a batch of 30 similar Block 52+ jets was supplied, this time consisting of 20 single-seaters and 10 two-seaters. Later deliveries have replaced the venerable A-7 Corsair, primarily in the strike role, although retaining their air-to-air ability.
Today, the HAF’s F-16s are split between seven squadrons and four bases. The earlier jets are concentrated at Nea Anchialos AB with 111 PM (Combat Wing), consisting of 330 Mira (Block 30), 341 and 347 Mira (Block 50). The conversion unit for these jets is also at the same base. At Chania AB on the strategically important island of Crete, 115 PM consists of 340 and 343 Mira, both flying the Block 52+ version with the conversion unit for the more advanced machine operating alongside. Block 52+ jets are also located at Larissa AB (110 PM, 337 Mira) and Araxos AB, where 335 Mira form part of 116 PM alongside 336 Mira, the final operator of the A-7 Corsair.
The fleet is equipped with advanced weaponry such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM and (unusually) the IRIS-T air to air missiles. For attack missions, the aircraft can carry JDAM, AGM-88 HARM, AGM-154C JSOW and Paveway III. F-16s are also equipped with the LANTIRN navigation and targeting system, helmet mounted sights and advanced ASPIS electronic warfare suite. The conformal fuel tanks carried by the Block 52+ aircraft give them increased range to allow operations as far as Cyprus.
Over the last few years, the HAF has provided an F-16 demonstration at some airshows in Greece and on occasion, further afield. One of the pilots who was assigned to this “ZEUS” F-16 Demo Team was Capt Manolis Karahalios, who was the display pilot between 2010 and 2013.Prior to converting to the F-16, he flew the A-7 Corsair, giving him an excellent grounding in the skills and attitude required of an attack pilot. He takes up the story here.
“Following my pilot training I was very lucky to have flown the mighty A-7H Corsair, a version tailored for the Hellenic AF. I gained more than 200 hours in the A-7H and I was a member of the last Squadron in the world still flying the A-7, 336 Squadron, call sign “OLYMPOS” (the mountain where the Olympian Gods of Ancient Greek Mythology lived).
“My first solo, single seat aircraft flight was in the Corsair and I used that experience to build an attack pilot mentality. The Corsair possessed a sophisticated avionic suite, many elements of which were ahead of its era, HUD, AG radar and INS to name but some.
“The A-7’s strong point is its low altitude flying characteristics and the confidence that gave to the pilot while following the terrain. A patch that every Corsair pilot wears is “Fly Low Hit Hard” representing the mentality of an A-7H pilot. We flew a lot of close formation flights and a lot of long range missions, due to the low fuel consumption rate of her engine. She can carry a huge combination of weapons, giving us the capability to train in several missions with tactics that could guarantee us the survivability from Air and Surface Threats. I had the opportunity to be trained by very professional, detail orientated instructors who had the skill and knowledge required to exploit every advantage of the Corsair.”
With the drawdown of the A-7 fleet, Manolis made the transition to the latest version of the F-16, drawing on his background as an experienced Corsair pilot.
“In 2003 I was selected to be among the first fighter pilots to transition to the newly acquired F-16 Block 52+ and I moved back to the island of Crete and Chania Air Base to start my training. The knowledge and the experience that I acquired flying the Corsair helped me a lot during my transition, whilst the Viper gave me what I was missing me in the A-7. The mentality of the Viper community was one of maturity and fighter orientation. In my OCU class, my colleagues were pilots coming from several types of fighters: from the A-7, the Mirage F-1 and the Phantom RF-4. Given my attack background I felt better prepared than the other fellow pilots from the Mirage and RF-4.
“In the F-16, I was always confident that I and my squadron mates would always return as winners. The variety of modern air-to-air (IRIS-T and AIM-120C) and precise air-to-ground weapons (Paveway III and AGM-65G) give us the capability to successfully execute every mission!
“Of course the greatest experience of my life was the opportunity that I had to become the first Greek F-16 Demo Pilot and the Leader of the “ZEUS” F-16 Demo Team, for three display seasons, from January 2010 up to February 2013. The team introduced the Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFT) in our display profile, which gave a different and more “muscular” view of the Viper. The CFTs also gave us the potential to venture farther than otherwise possible and I am proud to mention that I have a record for the most distant airshow site for a single-engine, single-pilot demonstration flight, without A-A refueling! On 10 November 2010, during the HAF Open Days, I flew 170 Nautical Miles from home base at Chania, Crete to Tanagra AFB, demonstrating a 12-minute high show for the first time in the history of the HAF, and returning back to Crete!
“Displaying the Viper, flying a “clean” F-16, at a low altitude in a high G environment was the experience of a lifetime! The powerful engine coupled with enviable aerodynamics and a precise flight control system provided unprecedented agility whilst the sophisticated ground avoidance avionics and the anti-G system helped me safely fly such a demanding task. I’ll say that the Viper is a very forgiving flying-machine, as far as the pilot’s Situational Awareness has not been lost.
“However, what I really like in the F-16, is that from the moment when I first strapped into her, I felt that the Viper was an extension of myself, designed exclusively around its pilot. Flying the F-16 had been a ‘dream of life’ that came true and I feel very lucky that I flew that jet.”
GAR would like to thank Capt Manolis Karahalios of the Hellenic Air Force for his assistance with this article. In the next part of the series we will examine USAF F-16 operations in the strategically significant Pacific region.