Greek parliament approves plan to buy French Rafale fighters

Greek lawmakers have approved a defense procurement program to purchase 18 French-made Rafale fighter planes

ATHENS, Greece -- Greek lawmakers in a vote Thursday approved a defense procurement program to purchase 18 French-made Rafale fighter planes, part of an armaments plan announced by the government in September.

Greece has earmarked 11.5 billion euros ($14 billion) for the modernization of its armed forces over the next five years, at a time of increased tension with neighboring Turkey.

Relations between the two NATO members, often strained, deteriorated sharply last year, with warships facing off in the eastern Mediterranean in a dispute over maritime boundaries and energy rights.

Delivery of the 18 Rafale jets — 12 currently in service in France and six new planes to be built by Dassault Aviation — is scheduled to begin mid-year and to be completed over two years. The jets and the purchase of compatible air-to-air Meteor missiles are expected to cost 2.3 billion euros ($3.4 billion).

Lawmakers from the governing center-right party as well as the two largest opposition parties voted in favor of the program, backing legislation that was fast-tracked through parliament.

Government spokesman Christos Tarantilis said the program was part of the government’s actions “for the immediate reinforcement of the deterrent capabilities of our armed forces.”