Hellenic Air Force Academy (HAFA)
May 15, 2019, 9:30 a.m.
Καλημέρα σας. Minister Apostolakis, General Christodoulou, Minister Bolaris, General Blioumis, it’s a great honor for me to be here at the Air Force Academy for another Air Power Conference. I also want to express my great appreciation to the newly named Commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa, General Harrigian, for joining us today so soon after assuming office.
I want to start by congratulating General Christodoulou, General Blioumis, and the Hellenic Air Force for developing the Air Power Conference into such an important venue for military and civilian leaders, along with industry partners, to exchange knowledge and identify strategies to advance our shared interests and enhance our collective operational capability and readiness. I know this conference is General Christodoulou’s baby, and I’m very grateful that you’ve had me back as a speaker.
The topic I’ve been asked to address today—how we can use airpower to maintain peace and stability—is both important and extremely relevant to Greece’s role here on NATO’s Southern Flank. That was true in 1947, when the U.S. committed to Greece’s success through the Marshall Plan, and it remains true today, as Greece emerges from the economic crisis and contends with the multiple intersecting strategic challenges in this region.
Now if you’ll indulge me for just a minute, I’d like to share some personal thoughts. And I should say, one of the reasons I enjoy speaking to military audiences like this is that you always test me with your straight shooting. The fact is, militaries tend to operate with a black-and-white, shoot/no-shoot frankness, whereas us diplomats work in shades of grey.
But that changes as you get up to more senior levels of decision making, where our jobs tend to converge, and I as a diplomat, and you as military leaders, share a common goal: to ensure peace and security for our citizens.
And if there is one lesson that I have learned about operating at that senior level, it is the importance of having a clear strategy: understanding our nation’s goals and then ensuring that the actions we take further those goals, always asking the question, “What are we trying to do?”
For the United States, the foundational documents for answering this question are our National Security Strategy, our National Defense Strategy, and our National Intelligence Strategy. Issued in January 2019, the National Intelligence Strategy is especially interesting, as it charts how we must prepare to meet 21st century challenges and to recognize emerging threats and opportunities.
The report is highly relevant to Greece and the challenging and dynamic neighborhood you occupy.
It makes the point that, “Traditional adversaries will continue attempts to gain and assert influence, taking advantage of changing conditions in the international environment – including the weakening of the post-WWII international order and dominance of Western democratic ideals, increasingly isolationist tendencies in the West, and shifts in the global economy.”
It also notes, “Russian efforts to increase its influence and authority are likely to continue and may conflict with U.S. goals and priorities in multiple regions.”
It notes that, “No longer a solely U.S. domain, the democratization of space poses significant challenges for the United States. Adversaries are increasing their presence in this domain with plans to reach or exceed parity in some areas. For example, Russia and China will continue to pursue a full range of anti-satellite weapons as a means to reduce U.S. military effectiveness and overall security.”
And finally, “Increasing migration and urbanization of populations are further straining the capacities of governments around the world and are likely to result in further fracturing of societies, potentially creating breeding grounds for radicalization. Pressure points include growing influxes of migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons fleeing conflict zones; areas of intense economic or other resource scarcity; and areas threatened by climate changes.”
And the list goes on, but these four points give us a lot to think about in shaping strategy for U.S. engagement with Greece in an era of renewed great power competition.
One of the points that my boss, Secretary of State Pompeo, often makes in dealing with this dynamic international environment is that our alliance relationships are fundamental to America’s ability to protect our values and interests. And no alliance relationship is stronger, or more proven, than our bond with NATO.
As Secretary Pompeo recently put it, the United States and our European allies “have a strong and enduring partnership born out of shared history, values, and decades of cooperation. We are a force for peace and democracy in the world.”
The playbook for our developing alliance with Greece was laid out last December at the inaugural Strategic Dialogue in Washington, where Minister Apostolakis joined, and Secretary Pompeo underscored Greece’s key position in the U.S. strategy for the Eastern Mediterranean and Balkan regions.
Building off of several years of intensive engagement, the Strategic Dialogue confirms the commitment of both the U.S. and Greece to institutionalize our cooperation in ways that transcend day-to-day politics in both of our democracies. And that cooperation is more important now than ever.
There are, of course, many places where U.S. and Greek security interests overlap. And of special relevance to this conference, pursuing our nations’ mutual airpower interests enables us to work together to uphold regional peace and stability.
Our partnership seeks to take advantage of Greece’s geostrategic location to advance our common goals for regional security. And that understanding was the framing idea for yesterday’s productive dialogue between the EUCOM Deputy Commander, General Twitty, and his Hellenic Armed Forces counterparts. Building on that dialogue, and deferring to General Harrigian, who’s the real authority and will speak a bit later, I’d like to highlight today four broad areas of mutual U.S. and Greek interest in the airpower domain:
The first is to enable and support a persistent Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability.
Second, to increase access to modern and realistic training environments where our Air Forces are challenged with advanced Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2/AD) threat presentations. Training against realistic threats in a realistic environment is of paramount importance to the readiness of NATO’s Air Forces and their ability to overcome emergent challenges that limit access to the region.
Third, we want to pursue temporary but persistent, rotational deployments of U.S. airpower assets to Greece to support unit-level, bilateral, and multilateral training opportunities.
Exercises like Stolen Cerberus, a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR)-focused exercise currently underway, and last month’s INIOCHOS exercise testify to how peacetime airpower activities promote regional stability and build relationships through joint training.
In addition to institutionalizing U.S. participation in these training opportunities, we would like to expand our engagement to incorporate all aspects of airpower including 5th generation fighters, long-range strike aircraft, Cyber, and critical enablers like ISR, Electronic Warfare, and Tankers.
Fourth, increased cooperation involving the expanded deployment, basing, and staging of U.S. strategic in-flight refueling aircraft is also of great mutual benefit. U.S. crews in Greece can train in realistic environments from forward-deployed locations with outstanding flying weather while our Hellenic Air Force partners gain experience in air-to-air refueling and other perishable skills, thus maintaining currency.
These areas of mutual interest give you a sense of our joint strategy to enable dynamic regional engagement and contribute to the peace and stability of an increasingly challenging region. Flowing from these high-level airpower interests, the U.S. and Greece are making progress on three specific objectives which I expect will be front and center when Minister Apostolakis is welcomed to the Pentagon next month:
The first objective is to modernize the existing U.S.-Greece defense arrangement. Our current agreement serves both sides well, but it was implemented in the early 1990s when the U.S. military footprint in Europe and Greece was being reduced sharply.
Times have changed, and in order to meet today’s challenges, Greece and the U.S. have agreed to update our bilateral security relationship for our mutual benefit and to bolster our mutual security interests.
In partnership with our Greek hosts, we see the benefits of establishing a persistent, rotational presence at additional locations in Greece in order to maximize training opportunities, increase our joint operational efficiency, and bolster our shared security interests.
In this regard, I want to stress how grateful we are for the support that the Greek government provides at Naval Support Activity Souda Bay. This indispensable facility, the flagship of our cooperation, has embodied our close ties and shared goals in the face of common security challenges for more than 50 years.
With Russia’s invasion of Crimea, the war in Syria, and the emergence of new threats like uncontrolled migration and foreign fighters fleeing the collapse of the ISIS “caliphate,” Souda is busier than ever, supporting the multiple U.S. Combatant commands that operate in, above, and transit through the Mediterranean.
NSA Souda Bay is also an important platform for cooperation on regional, bilateral, and multilateral exercises that keep our militaries prepared and interoperable in peacetime.
In the past, contingency operations have strained Souda’s capacity and forced Greece and the U.S. to develop ad hoc basing solutions.
Now, with the resounding success of the MQ-9 deployment at Larissa Air Base, the U.S. and Greece are considering additional U.S. airpower rotational deployments.
Modernizing our defense agreement will facilitate future U.S. investment in dual-use infrastructure, which will strengthen Greece’s security and increase Greece’s capabilities while providing our Air Forces the capacity they need to respond rapidly to dynamic regional imperatives.
I want to underline here that updating our defense agreement will be a sovereign decision of two democratic governments.
Our second bilateral objective is to underwrite peace and stability in the region by increasing bilateral training and exercise opportunities. The U.S. currently participates in bilateral CSAR deployments like Stolen Cerberus, fighter training deployments like INIOCHOS, and tanker training deployments at Souda Bay.
Last month, I had the privilege of attending my third INIOCHOS exercise along with our F-16 pilots and the awesome Italian F-35. And I can report that our pilots were deeply impressed by their Hellenic Air Force counterparts and by the quality training opportunities that the exercise provided with Greek, NATO, and other partner nations. I know this is General Christodoulou’s other baby, and I want to congratulate him, General Blioumis and the Hellenic Air Force for building such an impressive event.
Along with General Blioumis, I would love to see these exercises increase in frequency and complexity. Like Stolen Cerberus, INIOCHOS is all but institutionalized. Each year, the exercise gets more complex, and this is a testament to Greece’s capable Air Force as well as its leadership and bridge-building role in the region.
Additionally, a U.S. Army combat aviation brigade just completed the first-ever rotary wing training rotation at Stefanovikeio. Due to the exceptional training environment, that unit exceeded its planned flying hours, returning to the U.S. with significant operational experience and a new partner in the Hellenic Army. The U.S. Army in Europe hopes to build upon this success with additional training deployments to Greece in the months and years ahead.
Indeed, Greece has become a premier, year-round training destination for U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps aircraft and aircrews.
In future collaborations, I hope that our forces will develop ready-made contingency training plans and create opportunities for even more complex Tanker, CSAR, Fighter, and Bomber bilateral training.
These exercises and training events demonstrate to all who are watching the strength of the U.S.-Greece relationship. They have a tremendous strategic impact and a stabilizing effect on the wider region.
Finally, our third bilateral objective is to develop Hellenic Air Force capacity and capability. Just as our defense agreements should be updated to address the dynamic regional security environment, airpower must continually evolve and be modernized to meet new and emerging threats.
The U.S. has made it a priority to support Greece’s military modernization so that it continues to be a stabilizing force both diplomatically and militarily. This has been a very successful year and a half in that regard, most notably with Greece’s decision to upgrade the Hellenic Navy P-3B Orions, the delivery of 10 Chinook and 70 Kiowa Excess Defense Article helicopters, and the decision to upgrade 85 F-16s to the VIPER configuration. This upgrade in particular ensures the Hellenic Air Force’s interoperability with U.S. and NATO F-35 aircraft while setting the stage for the Hellenic Air Force to transition to a 5th generation fighter in the future.
The U.S. strategy for our diplomatic and military engagement with Greece is simple: the stronger Greece is and the healthier its economy is, the more our ally can act as a force for peace and a pillar of stability in the wider region. Throughout our history together, the U.S. and Greece’s combined airpower capability has served as a deterrent to potential bad actors, advancing our nations’ mutual interests to cement long and lasting peace.
So thank you very much for having me. And I would invite all the straight shooters out there to ask me any questions. Ευχαριστώ πολύ, and fire away!
Ambassador’s response to question from the audience regarding U.S. support for Cyprus and Turkish drilling activities in the Aegean.
Let me start by saying that the United States has placed a lot of attention on the emerging trilateral relationship between Greece, Cyprus, and Israel. This reflects our recognition that the Eastern Mediterranean has reemerged as a zone of great power competition, and in that context our relationship with our three democratic partners is particularly important. That is why Secretary of State Pompeo traveled to Jerusalem this spring in order to participate in the trilateral with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Prime Minister Tsipras. On the question specifically of the Cypriot EEZ and Turkish drilling activities, you saw the very quick and clear reaction of my government through our spokesperson in Washington, DC, and in particular, our emphasis on avoiding provocative and escalatory actions. From that perspective, I would note also that our long term hope — and this is again embodied in our support for the Greece-Israel-Cyprus – our long term hope is that energy issues in the Eastern Mediterranean should become a driver of cooperation, a win-win, as opposed to a driver of conflict. It’s very important in that regard that President Anastasiadis has explicitly proposed the creation of an escrow account so that any resources from Cypriot drilling activities would be shared equally among the communities. I would note also the very strong support of my government for the efforts that the Greek government has made to engage with and develop rules of the road with Turkey. It’s very important that Prime Minister Tsipras traveled to Ankara and Istanbul. It’s extremely important that Minister Apostolakis and Secretary General Paraskevopoulos at the Foreign Ministry continue to offer and encourage a dialogue between Athens and Ankara on confidence building measures. At the end of the day, Turkey is a NATO ally. We all seek to ensure that that NATO ally remains anchored in the West, anchored in Euro-Atlantic institutions, and indeed I would argue that among 29 NATO member states, the United States has no ally more closely aligned with us on the importance of keeping Turkey anchored in the West than Greece. So, we have spoken clearly on the escalatory nature of these drilling activities but we also are focused not just on stating our policy but also trying to reframe and redirect these issues in a way that’s to everybody’s benefit.