By Tassos Raftopoulos & Piet Luijken
The roots of the HAF lie in the few years preceding World War I. In 1911, the Greek government decided to establish the first military aviation units with French help and equipment. The first units saw action during the 1912-13 Balkan Wars, flying army observation and ground attack missions. During this period Navy aircraft flew some of the first naval reconnaissance missions in history, reporting movements of the Turkish fleet in the Dardanelles. During World War I the Greek air arms expanded with British and French assistance. Operations took place during 1917-1918 in the Macedonian theatre, as well as, over the Turkish straits. In 1919-22 Army air units participated in the Asia Minor expedition. Most missions were in cooperation with the Army and involved observation and light attack duties. The first post war years (1920s) saw a general decline in equipment as the Greek government had other priorities. However in 1930, the Royal Hellenic Air Force (RHAF) (in Greek EVA = Elliniki Vassiliki Aeroporia) became a separate branch of the armed forces. Naval aviation continued to exist as an integral part of the Navy.
With the winds of war blowing over Europe in the late 1930s, Greece started a comprehensive re-equipment effort. By 1940, when Italy attacked Greece, a relative improvement had taken place, albeit with relatively obsolete types (PZL P-24s, Fairy Battles, Gloster Gladiators, Henschel 126s and others). During the Greco-Italian war of 1940-41, the RHAF gave a relatively good account of itself, given the available equipment, appalling operational conditions and numerical advantage of the Italians. By April 1941 when Germany invaded, the RHAF had already been worn down and was eventually completely annihilated by the German blitzkrieg. RHAF survivors managed to escape to Egypt in order to continue the war. The British formed three Hellenic squadrons for operations in North Africa. Initially Hurricanes and Blenheims were flown, as the war progressed the squadrons re-equipped with Spitfires and Baltimore light bombers. The RHAF squadrons participated in the North African and Italian campaigns of 1942-1944. In October 1944 Greece was liberated and within the next few weeks the RHAF squadrons were repatriated. During the unfortunate years of the Greek civil war of 1944-1949 the RHAF flew ground attack and reconnaissance missions in support of the nationalist government. Primary equipment of this period was late mark Spitfires. By 1949, British influence in Greece had waned and the United States had begun to supply equipment and training in an effort to stem the communist threat. In the summer of 1949 Curtiss Helldivers were delivered to the RHAF, just in time for the closing operations of the civil war.
The outbreak of the Korean War in 1951 saw the dispatch of a C-47 transport flight in support of the United Nations effort. The RHAF stayed in Korea up until 1955. In the mean time the jet age came to Greece in 1951 with the delivery of the first T-33s. The 1950s were a period on unprecedented growth and reconstruction. Many major air bases were built in the 1950s, mostly with NATO/US funds. Large numbers of early jets were also delivered under the auspices of the US Military Assistance Program (MAP). Hundreds of F-84Gs, F-84Fs, RF-84Fs, T-33s, F-86Es and F-86Ds entered service between the early 1950s and early 1960s. The cold-war requirements meant that Greece had to continue updating its armed forces. Starting from 1963 the first Starfighters and Freedom Fighters were delivered via MAP. These aircraft formed the core of the RHAF up until the mid-1970s when more modern types entered service. In response to the military dictatorship of 1967 the US imposed an arms embargo during 1967-1968. Following an improvement of US-Greek relations, deliveries of equipment re-started in 1969. Notable is the 1969 transfer of a squadron of F-102 Delta Daggers for interception duties.
By 1974 the military regime had started an extremely ambitious re-armament program, with Phantoms and other modern equipment being ordered. In July 1974 the military junta engineered a coup in Cyprus. A few days later the Turks invaded the island the junta was totally unprepared and unable to respond. Within a few days the junta had collapsed and a civilian government was established in Greece. The new government pursued a policy of strengthening the armed forces and between 1974 and 1980 the HAF received about 170 brand new Phantoms, Corsairs and Mirages. The transport fleet received C-130Hs and brand new T-2Es were bought as trainers. Almost all new aircraft purchased post 1970 have been with national funds or FMS loans. Also in 1974 Greece formally became a Republic and the Air Force now bore the name of Hellenic Air Force (in Greek EPA = Elliniki Polemiki Aeroporia). The early 1980s were a period of relative stagnation following the rapid modernization of the second half of the 1970s. The F-5 and F-104 fleets were expanded with a number of second-hand examples. Second hand aircraft were acquired from a diverse set of countries, including Jordan, Iran, the Netherlands, Germany and Norway. Many of the second hand aircraft never entered service and were used as spares parts sources. For example of 150 Starfighters delivered, no more than 50-60 aircraft were active at any one time. Modernization came relatively late, only in 1988 were the first third generation fighters delivered, forming 2 Mirage 2000 squadrons and 2 F-16 squadrons. Between the 1970s and 1990s the HAF support fleet (transports and trainers) suffered from attrition, old age and heavy use without any new replacement being acquired. The large numbers of Nord Noratlases and C-47s of the 1970s were retired (although a few C-47s continue to soldier on) and a hodgepodge number of second hand types entered service. Included are early C-130Bs, ex Olympic YS-11s and Do-28Ds from Germany. The trainer fleet has relied heavily on the T-2s bought in the 1970s and on elderly T-37s and T-33s. The ancient HU-16B Albatrosses were retired during the mid-1990s and slightly newer P-3B Orions have been acquired in their place. The 1990s saw the gradual retirement of the F-104s and F-5s and second hand Corsairs and Phantoms were acquired from the US and Germany as replacements (over 100 aircraft). In 1992 it became evident that additional modern fighters were urgently needed. A second batch of new F-16C/D Block 50s was ordered with deliveries starting in 1996. These aircraft are tasked with night attack using the LANTIRN system and also with SEAD using AGM-88 HARM missiles. All Greek F-16s are equipped with AMRAAM missiles for Air Defence.
The early 21st century has seen a gradual acceleration of re-equipment efforts. The primary drivers for this have been the perceived equipment and numerical superiority achieved by Turkey since the early 1990s, as well as the approaching time to replace the aircraft bought during the 1970s. In 2002 the HAF had 6 third generation combat aircraft squadrons and 9 squadrons with 1970s generation fighters. The status in 2004 includede 8 third generation squadrons, 2 of squadrons with modernized Phantoms and only 4 squadrons of older A-7s and non-modernized Phantoms. The next fighter type to be retired had to be the Mirage F-1CG. The Mirage F-1CGs were used as lead in fighter trainers with a secondary interception role. The most ambitious current program was the F-16C/D Block 52+ order for 60 aircraft with deliveries from late 2002. The aircraft are to be fitted with conformal fuel tanks and will replace A-7s at Souda Air Base. Twenty of the aircraft will be "missionized" two-seaters and are expected to form a specialized attack squadron using smart weapons and LANTIRN systems. The Mirage 2000 fleet will also be strengthened with a Mirage 2000-5 squadron being formed. The fleet will be a combination of new built and upgraded aircraft. The contract for the Dash 5 includes MICA missiles as well as a batch of SCALP cruise missiles. Probably the most important HAF development of the past few years has been the establishment of a national Airborne Early Warning capability with the order of 4 Embraer 145 AEW aircraft. The first aircraft were delivered in late 2003, although the aircraft are still not accepted in 2008 due to many technical reasons. As an interim solution the Swedish Air Force has loaned 2 Saab S100B Argus aircraft to Greece. Greece also participates in the NATO AWACS unit. Finally, the trainer and transport fleets have recently received a significant boost. The archaic T-37s are replaced with brand new Raytheon T-6A Texan II trainers while the Hercules fleet will be supported by 12 C-27J Spartans. The Hercules fleet is also slated for an avionics upgrade so that it can continue to operate for the foreseeable future. The HAF currently strives to maintain a numerical and qualitative balance with Turkey. Additionally, the importance of providing a limited long-range combat capability over Cyprus has also been developed and a requirement for In Flight Refueling also exists. Humanitarian and Peace Keeping missions have also come to the forefront of HAF operations, with participation in all major multinational operations of the past few years (Somalia, Bosnia, Kossovo, Albania, FYROM). New equipment plans include a requirement for 3-4 squadrons of 4th generation fighters by the end of the current decade. The Eurofighter has been officially been selected to satisfy the requirement although contract signatures have been cancelled due to budgetary constraints. Greece is also currently contemplating participation in the JSF programme although no decisions have been made. The next most important requirement is for a T-2 replacement, calling for about 40 new generation trainers. At this moment the HAF has to choice between the Aermacchi M346 and the KAI T-50. Other capabilities being currently developed are in Combat SAR and In Flight Refueling, while an option exists to expand the Embraer 145 AEW fleet.
Comparable to other states like the USA, the Hellenic Navy or Elliniko Polemiko Naftiko started operating aircraft in an early stage to expand the operational capabilities of its ships. The first flight was made on 13 May 1912 in the ‘Daedalus‘, a Farman biplane converted into a seaplane. During the First World War many missions were flow, including 80 bombardments flights and 25 anti submarine flights while during twenty scramble missions a total of nine enemy planes were shot down. With the institution of the Hellenic Air Force in 1930, all aviation was eventually placed under this command and all naval aircraft were transitioned to this newly formed force, ending all naval aviation operations in 1935. However, after a couple of decennia, new developments introduced the helicopter as the ideal platform for extended range tactical warfare while being based onboard frigates. These frigates of the Dutch Kortenaer class design were ordered for delivery in 1979 and therefore there was a direct need for an air arm again. Four Sud Aviation SA319B Alouette 3 helicopters were procured and delivered in 1975. At first the helicopters were allocated to the newly commissioned Hellenic Navy Helicopter Squadron and were based at Hellinikon Athens International Airport, which was not far from the naval port. Construction of Naval Air Station Amphiali was completed in 1977 and all operations moved to this airfield located at a naval base in the bay on the other side of Elefsis AFB. This airport consisted of one helipad, one ramp and one hangar and would therefore become too small after the arrival of the larger, twin engined Agusta Bell 212 helicopters. Deliveries for this new helicopter started in 1979. Again, a new airfield was built, this time in the Marathon area on the northeast side of Athens. Naval Air Station Kotroni was finished in 1986 on top of a small hill. With the arrival of all 13 AB212s, there was a growing need for pilots and support staff. The Navy Aviation School was founded in 1992 to train aviation professionals with a special focus on specific naval operations. The squadron was divided into two flights ( Sminos), being Sminos Alouette 3 and Sminos AB212. The air arm was further modernised with the order and subsequent delivery of the Sikorsky S-70B/B-6 Aegean Hawk helicopters which were at first allocated to Sminos Aegean Hawk. At this moment, the COMHELNAVHEL is the overall organization for all naval aviation operations and is based at NAS Kotroni. Under its command there are three divisions and two squadrons. The first division is Naval Air Station Kotroni, responsible for all logistic and technical support at this station. Secondly, there is Naval Air Station Amphiali, which is still available as a back-up airfield. The third division is the Navy Aviation School (Scholi Elikopteron Naftikou, SEN). All pilots start here with their ab-initio training on the Alouette 3, but also for their conversion to the AB212 and S-70. The sensor operators on the helicopters and the P-3B Orion (operated by the Hellenic Air Force, 112 PM, Elefsis AB) are also trained here. Furthermore, all maintenance personnel and all ship’s helo teams receive their training at this school. First Squadron (1st Mira Elikopteron Naftikou, 1 MEN) provides the personnel, facilities and assets for the AB212s and the Alouette 3s, while 2nd Squadron ( 2nd Mira Elikopteron Naftikou, 2 MEN) does the same for the S-70s. COMHELNAVHEL also has the operational and administrative command over the Coast Guard helicopters Squadron although this is an independent organization belonging to the Hellenic Coast Guard General Staff.
The Hellenic Coast Guard or Limeniki Soma was founded in 1919 and is under the control of the Ministry of Mercantile Marine and Maritime Policy. In wartime this control is shifted to the Hellenic Navy. Its main tasks are search and rescue, pollution control, fishery protection and prevention of illegal immigration. Besides many patrol boats it also has an fixed wing air wing, based at Tatoi-Dekelia AB near Athens. First operations started in the eighties with the Cessna C172 which were placed under the HCG Air Means Division. This air wing has been considerably improved during the previous years with the arrival of three twin-engined Reims Cessna F406 Caravan II patrol aircraft. Next to its extended range, it also carries a FLIR turret under the nose, a SLAR under the rear fuselage and a radar under the belly. Furthermore, two Socata TB-20 single-engined aircraft were acquired for coastal control and fishery protection. The lack of a proper HCG SAR helicopter was ended with the order and subsequent delivery of four AS332C1 Super Puma helicopters in 1999. As the HCG was not, yet, accustomed to helicopter operations, they are operated by the Hellenic Air Force and based with 384 MED at Elefsis AB. These four Super Pumas with serials 2464, 2509, 2519 and 2520 have a blue-grey paint scheme with a orange dayglo tail band and vertical surfaces, large Hellenic flag on the tail and large orange SAR titles. To perform their SAR tasks in all possible weather types, they have a nose-mounted radar, nose-mounted FLIR and a speaker on the left side. The Olympic Games 2004 were held in Athens and security was one of the main aspects during preparations and execution of this international event . Border control and air patrol was very important but in dire need of improvement. The fixed wing fleet was expanded with the order of six AS365N3 Aegean Dolphins. They had to be in operation before the start of the Olympic Games. The order was signed in January 2003 and the first Aegean Dolphin arrived in February 2004 at Tatoi-Dekelia AB. The HCG Helicopter Squadron was commissioned here and fully operational in June 2004, which was just in time as the Olympic Games began in Augustus 2004. Training had to be restricted to air patrols and antiterrorist immediate response actions to ensure this timeline. In December 2005 the HCG Heli squadron moved to NAS Marathon and was placed under the operational command of the COMHELNAVHEL in order to expand its operations with the expertise of the naval counterparts. There is a combined training program installed to ensure that the HCG Helicopter Squadron is ready to take full advantage of the new helicopter’s capabilities as soon as possible but within the next two years. Further tasks include pollution control, SAR missions and forest surveying.