The Minister of National Defence, Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, attended yesterday, Friday 5 November 2021, the official celebration in honour of the Hellenic Air Force Patron Saint, Archangel Michael, which was held at the Athens Concert Hall.
The celebration was also attended by the Chief HNDGS – General Konstantinos Floros, the Chief HAFGS – Lieutenant General Georgios Blioumis, the Chief HAGS – Lieutenant General Charalambos Lalousis, as well as by the Chief HNGS – Vice Admiral Stylianos Petrakis.
This year’s celebration was dedicated to Air Force Training, which is inextricably linked to the operation of the Air Force Academy and the Air Force NCO School; these two military schools that constitute the cornerstone for the nurturing of well-trained members, inspired by the air force ideal, the excellent training and the dedication to duty. By virtue of that very fact, the Minister of National Defence bestowed an award upon the Honorary Chief HAFGS retired General Georgios Mavrakis as the most senior Commander of the Air Force Academy attending the ceremony.
In his address, Mr. Panagiotopoulos stated the following:
“Ladies and Gentlemen,
Distinguished members of the Air Force family,
My feeling is that the Air Force is not only alive. It has come to life for good and not only because of what we have all attended today during this beautiful ceremony, but because of the general prevailing atmosphere. When a couple of years ago, I invited the Chief to put together our needs, I told him: “Ask anything of me”. And the Chief replied: “I want aircrafts, availability, unimpeded flow of spare parts, possibly a 5th generation aircraft and forward-looking training”. We met with the Military Leadership, a clever, methodical and cost-adjusted plan was prepared, we agreed on that, we brought this to the attention of the Prime Minister for approval and from then on, plans began to be made.
So today, after two years, the Air Force has increased availability in “Mirage 2000” that now have for the first time since 2012 an existing Follow-On Support Agreement and despite any problems, new “Mirage 2000-5” are added to the availabilities – something that was impossible until recently. The upgrading programme for F-16 into “Viper” version has been unblocked and is being implemented and the following step in upgrading F-16 Block50 is being developed. We will soon submit this programme as well to the appropriate Parliament Committee for approval and the fleet of transport aircrafts that was dealing and still deals with major availability issues is now provided with Follow-On Support Agreements, that is with the unimpeded flow of spare parts; however, it all starts with the existence of a Follow-On Support Agreement as an essential requirement. We proceeded with the acquisition of these amazing “Rafale” aircrafts, the eighteen of which have been agreed upon in no time at all. From September 2020 when negotiations were launched until January 2021 when we signed with the French side, I would say that the pace was really fast. Thenceforward, the decision on the acquisition of another six ones has been initiated and there is more. Because despite what has taken place (and actually a lot took place), I do not believe that there are no more things that need to be done.
The intervention that is of particular importance and is absolutely related to the Personnel is the forward-looking training through the establishment of the International Flight Training Center at Kalamata, about which we have been criticized; but I believe and I insist on saying that this is the key, the most strategic reform for the future of the Air Force Personnel. It is a reform that affects – as I told you – not only the resources, but also the Personnel. I believe that a cycle of significant interventions in the last couple of years is closing, because that is the way it had to be so that the Air Force would maintain its quality, its excellent operational and functional capability and its reputation. It deserves it and that is what the geopolitical turbulences, the fluid geopolitical situation that we are experiencing for the past two years and the security challenges that our country is facing require.
And if we needed “a gas station in the clouds”, we would also acquire an air resupply aircraft. Possibly, as long as the Air Force opens its wings, perhaps this need will arise. Of course this is something that the Military Leadership will tell us; and if the Military Leadership requires so, we will launch that too in order to acquire our own gas station in the clouds. For the time being, we content ourselves with the assistance provided by our friends and Allies. We saw the picture of the air resupply in one of the exercises that the Air Force is involved with friend and allied countries, here with France. But this is something that we are going to deal with in the future.
Today I just want to express my joy of being here at the Athens Concert Hall on the occasion of the celebration in honour of the Hellenic Air Force Patron Saint, Archangel Michael. Today the Air Force is celebrating; its members, as well as the Armed Forces are celebrating.
In times of particular difficulty, the Air Force’s capability and effectiveness has been and still is unchallengeable. On a daily basis, its members prove their professionalism, watching over the skies, being fully aware of the fact that the Nation’s existence and well-being also relies on their successful accomplishment of the mission.
The Air Force constitutes an important pillar for the implementation of our Defence strategy, both in the field of deterrence and of Diplomacy, ultimately for highlighting the country’s role as a pillar of security and stability in the region, but also for safeguarding our National interests.
Therefore, a significant effort is under way in this field, as I noted in the beginning of my address. There are tangible results both as regards the establishment, the development and the strengthening of important alliances of defence nature in our region with states such as Israel, Egypt, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but also as regards the development and further deepening of our already existing alliances with friend countries, such as France and the USA at multiple levels.
We are working hard towards upgrading the operational capabilities of all the Armed Forces. We promote many actions towards the armaments adequacy, but also the renewal and support of human resources. In this way, the operational capabilities of the Armed Forces are being significantly enhanced, exemplified as I told you by the recent procurement of “Rafale” fighters. I referred to the upgrading programmes for the already available weapon systems; I need to refer also to the outreach that the Air Force wishes as regards its social contribution, its high performance during its participation in exercises and trainings at multinational and bilateral level, as a result of which the Air Force has earned the recognition and respect of allies, but also of the entire Greek Nation.
We may speak of course today about such an Air Force, because as of the establishment of its military schools, training was very accurately defined as the main pillar for its development. Through these schools, the knowledge of Air Force Science and Technology is conveyed to the students, while at the same time Military virtues are being developed, so that students would shape themselves as members with excellent Military and Air Force conscience.
Besides, through the upgrading of training, but also the increase in the number of Air Force Personnel on active duty, the Armed Forces’ human resources is in our mind the most important force multiplier.
We have the honour of having here today with us the most senior Commanders of these schools, as well as the current heads of the Air Force Academy and the Air Force NCO School. These persons surely reflect the evolution of the Air Force, but also the spreading of the air force idea.
In 1912, Eleftherios Venizelos stated: “The aircraft is indicated as the weapon of the weak. Indeed, the Greek’s daring and bold nature will render it a brilliant weapon in war, bound to offer great service”. We realize now how appropriate the connection between the employment of the aircraft weapon and the temperament of the Greeks was, reflecting the motto “Always Dominate the Heights”.
On this occasion, I would like to thank and congratulate the entire Air Force personnel, but also the entire Armed Forces’ personnel for the flawless response to their duties and I recognize their high morale and their readiness.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the contribution of the Air Force members in defending our territorial integrity and our sovereignty rights. I am given also the opportunity to say that it is my great honor and joy to work as much as I can where I can, in order to increase all these capabilities of the Air Forces, but also of all the Armed Forces at the moment.
Concluding, I am paying tribute to our Heroes who are gone. To those who bequeathed to us a historical legacy, remaining faithful to the principles and values that they served with effort and sacrifice.
Best wishes to our Air Force! May the Patron Saint, Archangel Michael, always fly next to the pilots and protect them with his wings, just as they protect Greece with their wings.
Best wishes to all and thank you for your presence here.