2016 EMF Conference Part 2: South Eastern Mediterranean Air Power Projection – Today and Beyond – Lt. General HAF (Retd.) Ioannis E. Anastasakis 5-7 December 2016

by on January 08, 2017

EMF Conference Part 2: South Eastern Mediterranean Air Power Projection – Today and Beyond
Lt. General HAF (Retd.) Ioannis E. Anastasakis
EMF Conference 5-7 December 2016
Larnaca, Cyprus


The establishment of exclusive economic zones in the Eastern Mediterranean has radically changed the context of air power projection. It is now even more guided by the need to protect, but also to control: illegal immigration and human trafficking, terrorist activities and piracy, weapons smuggling. In the context of regional upheavals, in particular the Syrian war and growing aggressiveness of Turkey, Cyprus and other regional states need to urgently address the security issue.

At the beginning, let me thank ERPIC for organizing this three-day conference, dealing with issues of high importance.

Based on my experience a as former air force officer, the topic I’ll cover for the next 20 minutes or so, is: “South East Mediterranean, Air Power projection (today and beyond).

Enjoying the view of South Eastern Mediterranean from a height, looks very peaceful and friendly.  In reality this is not the case.

Speaking about South Eastern Mediterranean air power, it’s of great importance to realize that the airspace of the region is occupied by numerous civilian flights. In accordance with planefinder.net, which provides real time air traffic details, the average number of civilian flights in the region is about 400 civilian planes, at any time, day or night.

In addition to civilian traffic, the regional airspace is oversaturated by hundredths of military flights. Speaking about airpower projection in the region is clear evidence that there are four regional airpowers, namely: Greece, Turkey, Israel and Egypt. We can imagine these four airpowers to be the corner of a box, with Cyprus as the jewel in the middle.

Just to have an idea of these four airpowers, their inventory of fighter planes includes hundreds of sophisticated 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation of airframes. As it is shown on the slide, only regarding fighter planes the regional airpowers invest billions of dollars ($) in order to improve their military capabilities, with more efficient and stealthy planes. These new planes will be commissioned in the next 5 to 10 years, changing the balance of airpower in the region.

Fighter planes are not the only force to consider. In addition there are also hundreds of military utility planes, trainers, transport, air command & control, electronic warfare, tankers, reconnaissance and also general use and attack helicopters.

All the above inventories, aim to project airpower in support of national strategies.

The establishment of EEZs radically changes the operational context of air power projection. The defense investments of the regional airpowers and the procurement of new 5th generation airframes, are guided by “today’s and beyond” needs, as EEZ boundaries should be established and new energy resources discovered in the region.

Major national requirements for airpower projection are is guided by the need to protect the national airspace, the national EEZ limits, including hydrocarbon related installations and resources, and also to control illegal immigration and human trafficking, terrorist activities, piracy, and weapons smuggling.

Speaking about EEZ protection, the airpower is only one axis of projection and naval power is the second. It is also of paramount importance to highlight the reality that the regional airpowers, simultaneously invest also in their Navies.  New ship types will be commissioned in the region shortly, like assault platforms by Turkey, new submarines by Israel, helicopter carriers and frigates by Egypt, upgrading the capabilities and naval capacities.

And as regional airpowers upgrade their military capabilities, let’s take a look on late developments of what happens over the neighbor Syrian airspace.

It is well aware that a multinational air power dominates the sky over Syria, attacking ground targets, without a collectively selected “political end state” of the war. US led airstrikes against ISIS with participation of air forces from Australia, Bahrain, the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and United kingdom. On the other hand, Israeli independent and Russian led airstrikes in collaboration with Syrian air force complete the picture of this regional “World War”.

The airpower projection of the above mentioned forces, creating high collateral damage among the local population, is clear that they provide just the air superiority and isolation of enemy forces and will not solve the problem that is to clear and secure the ground, without boots on the ground. Airpower is not a conquering force.

In the vicinity of Syria, Cyprus, the “jewel in the box” of regional airpowers, based on agreements, has not permanently deployed air power with fighter planes on the island. Therefore the protection of Cypriot national interests is based upon airpower of neighbors and allies.  

Hellenic Air Force (HAF) as representing the core of national airpower, has the mission to support national and regional security and defense policies. The negative developments of the Greek national economy the last years, has heavily affected defense spending. This happens because in times of depression, society places defense in a lower priority.

Under these constrains, based upon on adverse economic situation, HAF has to survive in times of depression and transformation, retaining the core capabilities and shifting from attrition to adaptation. Investing in procurement of new 5th generation planes is out of the question for the moment and only the procurement of spare parts and munitions stands as priority. For the time being, the threat assessment is capabilities-based and not intentions based. 

At the national level, HAF has to counter Turkey’s offensive behavior as the main threat. Been unable to plan for the procurement of new fighter planes, the recent decision is to upgrade 2 F-16 squadrons to Viper type that is the most advanced fighter in F-16 family. 

On other hand, HAF in order to reduce operational and sustaining costs, decided the abolition of some Tactical Groups in forward operating Bases and secondary Air Bases, like 126 TG in Heraclion-Crete, 132 TG in Agrinio-Western Greece, 134 TG in Sandorini, 138 TG in Timpaki-Crete. Also HAF decided the abolition of Air detachments, like in Rhodos, Karpathos and Ioannina. In addition the retirement in 2015, of 45 A-7 corsair planes and the merge of Squadron equipped with same planes has focused on reducing operational costs.

At a regional level, HAF has to increase the operational and functional interoperability with allied forces, planning and execute joint and combined training and exercises.

As already mentioned, Turkey’s offensive posture is the major threat for HAF. But this offensive posture is not only against Greece.

As the writer Zeyno Baran describes in his book with title: “Citizen Islam: The future of Muslim Integration in the West”:

“Ataturk envisioned his goal as the liberation of his fellow Turks from centuries of religious dogma imposed by the caliphate…”

As a comment to Ataturk’s cited vision, we should remember that Ataturk is history, Erdoğan is today’s reality.

As stated in a study conducted by Professor Dr. Michael Robert Hickok with the title: “Hegemon Rising: The Gap between Turkey’s Strategy and Military Modernization”:

“The rise of Turkey as an independent security actor   in the region has not gone unnoticed by its neighbors. Ankara’s experiment with post Kemalist foreign policies comes at a time when Turkish military modernization is on the cusp of giving Turkey capabilities that far outstrip those of any single neighbor.” 

As a comment on this, how should Turkey’s neighbors should react? Is it time for further regional military collaboration?

Let me conclude this presentation with an ancient Greek saying: “οι καιροί ου μενετοί” that means: “The opportunities do not wait”. These are the words of Pericles, the great politician of ancient Athens, as recorded by historian Thucydides.

Pericles addressed these words to the Athenians in order to mobilize them in preparation to defend Greece against the Persian Empire’s offensive. 

At this point, the floor is open for questions or comments.


See: Maritime Strategy for the 21st Century

See: A Commentary on the Developments of Air Power

See: Regional Security Videos

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