The tragic death of Hellenic Air Force pilot Yorgos Baltadoros is the latest indication that the escalation of Aegean tensions and of airspace violations have pushed Greek Air Force pilots and war planes to the limit, in part because of the fiscal cutbacks over the eight years of Greece’s economic crisis.

The government is forced to walk on a tightrope, balancing between necessary budget cuts imposed by the country’s creditors, and the absolutely necessary procurement and systems upgrades required to keep the armed forces battle-worthy.

At the same time, skyrocketing Turkish airspace violations have tested the limits of human endurance for Greek Air Force pilots, who are considered among the best and most experienced.

The data from the Greek military’s General Staff are the best reflection of the burden that Greek pilots flying Mirage and F-16 fighter jets, which daily intercept and engage in dog fights with Turkish war planes, must shoulder.

Greek national airspace violations by Turkish fighter jets reached 3,317 for all of 2017, compared to 1,770 in 2015, producing a huge hike in the number of scrambles and intercept missions from the Greek side.

The upward trend has continued in 2018, with the 353 violations in January nearly tripling the 133 violations in January, 2017.

Psychological burden

The escalation in the Aegean and the Mediterranean – with hostile acts by the Turkish armed forces and inflammatory, bellicose rhetoric from Turkish officials, including the president and the PM – are an added, psychological burden for Greece’s over-worked pilots, as it maintains an even more warlike environment in which they are forced to operate, a military source told Ta Nea.

The high-pitched, aggressive rhetoric of Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, usually in response to Turkish officials" hostile statements, have also served to aggravate a tense climate.

“All these things clearly have an impact on them,” the source said.

The increased needs of the armed forces have preoccupied Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who has approved a billion euro expenditure for parts for weapons systems that are currently out of commission, as they require a necessary upgrade and maintenance.

The upgrade of Greece’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets and the purchase of French frigates have also been on the table for quite some time.

Christos Tsigouris, Manos Charalambakis