Back in 2013, Jetwash Aviation Photos visited 116 Pteriga Makhis (116 Combat Wing) to report on 336 Mira, as the LTV A-7 Corsair II began its withdrawal from service and the Wing re-equipped with the state-of-the-art Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 52M Fighting Falcon. Back then, 335 Mira had already re-formed on the F-16, and following withdrawal of the A-7 in October 2014, 336 Mira Vomvardamou (Fighter-Bomber Squadron) followed suit. With both squadrons now operating the F-16 'Viper' for a few years, we thought it an ideal opportunity to re-visit Araxos to provide an update on the Wing's current status and operations. The Elliniki Polemiki Aeroporia (Hellenic Air Force-HAF) gave us unbridled access to the two squadrons to look at the HAF's most potent fighter aircraft.
The introduction of the A-7E Corsair II saw the demise of the iconic Starfighter; however the Corsair II became a legendary aircraft in its own right whilst in service with the HAF. After scrapping a €4.9 billion deal for 60 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft in 2005, the Greek government announced an order for an additional 30 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52+ Fighting Falcons (consisting of 20 C-models and 10 D-models), joining the existing Block 52 F-16s that entered service with the Hellenic Air Force under the Peace Xenia III deal in 2003. Deliveries to 335 Mira commenced in March 2009, with the final five aircraft arriving on 28th January 2010. Coinciding with the arrival of the F-16s for 335 Mira, which operated initially alongside the A-7s of 336 Mira, the airfield at Araxos saw a number of improvements take place; two new squadron hangars, two operations buildings and an engine maintenance building were constructed, together with a building for the flight simulator.
We would like to thank the following for their help in completing this article
Caroline Makropoulos (Defence Attaché, British FCO, Athens)
Hellenic Air Force Chiefs of Staff
Colonel Dimitrios Sideridis (Commander, 116CW)
Capt. Maria Oikonomou (Ypaspistirio, 116 CW)
The Block 52Ms are fitted with the AN/APG-68(V9) multimode radar, which has a faster processing speed and greater memory capacity than previous versions of the radar (the V9 offering five times greater processing speed and ten times more memory compared to the previous AN/APG-68 versions). A high-resolution synthetic aperture radar mode allows the pilot to locate and identify long-distance tactical ground targets. The Block 52M also has an enhanced stand-off weapons capability for precision strike, utilising the GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), the AGM-154C Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW) and CBU-103/104/105 WCMD (Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser). Fitted out for the air superiority role, the Block 52M utilises the IRIS-T (InfraRed Search and Track) short-range air-to-air missile and the AIM-120C AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile).
The aircraft also employ’s the LANTIRN AN/AAQ-13 navigation and AN/AAQ-14 targeting pods, Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JMHCS) and the AN/AVS-9 Generation III night vision goggles (NVG), although these are not compatible with the JMHCS. The F-16s feature four antennas (also known as ‘bird-slicers’) which house the AN/APX-113 IFF interrogator in front of the canopy, whilst the F-16 Block 52M aircraft are also fitted with Litton’s ASPIS II electronic warfare suite (Advanced Self-Protection Integrated Suite), which has been internally mounted in the extended tail-root parachute housing at the rear of the aircraft, and includes the ALQ-187 I-DIAS jamming system, ALR-66VH (I) radar warning receiver (RWR) and ALE-47 chaff & flare dispensers.
Unlike its sister squadron at Araxos, 336 Mira aircraft do not wear any squadron markings, as per this single-seat F-16C seen heading out for a mission during the Iniohos exercise at nearby Andravida Air Base. In fact 336 is the only fast-jet squadron in the HAF not to apply any form of squadron markings to their aircraft
Heading out for an afternoon mission, this F-16 would appear to be a 336 Mira aircraft as it is devoid of squadron markings
However, it was operating from the 335 Mira shelter area and with a 335 Mira crew on 19th March 2018
This F-16 is captured as the ground crew marshall the aircraft out of its HAS whilst at the same time trying to avoid getting soaking wet during a Spring shower
Araxos Air Base, Greece, March 2018
F-16D from 335 Squadron heading out for an afternoon mission
With a final salute from the ground crew, this two-seat F-16D heads out for an afternoon mission at Araxos
A 335 Mira 'Tigers' F-16C powers out for a morning mission in March 2018
This F-16C is seen undergoing some minor maintenance in 336 Squadron's hangar at Araxos
Heading out for an afternoon mission, this F-16D shows how effective the Aegean Camouflage is
335 Mira ‘Tiger’ is the oldest squadron in the Hellenic Air Force and was established in October 1941. The Squadron became the first Hellenic Air Force unit equipped with jet aircraft, when in October 1953 it formed at Elefsis Air Base on the Republic F-84G Thunderjet and the Lockheed RT-33A Shooting Star. Following stints with the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak and the iconic Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, 335 Squadron moved to Araxos in June 1977, later re-equipping with the LTV A-7E Corsair II in April 1993. The ‘Tiger’ squadron has a multi-role tasking at present, conducting air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, whilst also having a small number of the UTC Aerospace Systems DB-110 pod for reconnaissance missions utilising the two-seat F-16D. The DB-110 recce-pod offers a high-end digital Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability, with a stand-off range of 80+ nautical miles, along with the ability to collect more than 10,000 square miles of high-resolution imagery per hour.
The legendary A-7E Corsair II equipped both squadrons at Araxos prior to re-equipping with the F-16 Fighting Falcon
Construction of the airfield at Araxos began in 1936, and by 1941 it was ready to commence aircraft operations, also becoming the first Greek base to commence to benefit from a radar installation. Jet aircraft operations began in 1958, with the then 116 Combat Group taking up residence in April 1962 with the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak. The subordinate squadron at the time (336 Mira) received the new Lockheed F-104G Starfighter in 1964, with the unit taking on Wing status in May 1969. 116 Combat Wing doubled in size during 1977 when 335 Mira moved form 114 Combat Wing, also taking up residence at Araxos with its F-104G Starfighters. The Ling-Temco-Vought A-7H Corsairs remaining in the Greek inventory moved to Araxos in 2002, remaining in service until March 2007, when the survivors were put into storage. Having proved extremely reliable and popular with pilots and ground crew alike, the HAF had decided to buy more A-7s in the early 1990s, resulting in some surplus US Navy A-7Es and TA-7Cs being delivered in 1992, with the airframes equipping both 335 and 336 Mira's.
Following an early morning mission, a 336 Squadron F-16D gets refuelled by a bowser inside one of the many Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) at Araxos. It's extremely unusual to see an aircraft refuelled inside a HAS, particularly with the fuel bowser inside as well
The Block 52Ms at Araxos are fitted with the afterburning Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engine
The distinctive ‘Aegean Ghost’ camouflage applied to the Araxos-based F-16s is known as ‘Have Glass III’, a radar-absorbing paint (known as Pacer Gem) which helps reduces the aircraft’s Radar Cross Section (RCS). Prior to its application, the paint is mixed with a radar absorbent material which has microscopic metal grains added to it, helping to degrade the radar signature of the aircraft. The paint is very rough to the touch, which alters the appearance of the paint. The downside of the Have Glass paint is that because of its rough texture, it is prone to picking up and absorbing dirt, particularly from the boots worn by maintenance personnel who work on the aircraft.
The blue/grey camouflage and conformal fuel tanks (CFT) are shown to good effect as #017 flares after landing
The crew of this twin-seat F-16D sit patiently on the Last Chance checkpoint whilst the ground crew conduct their final checks prior to a mission on the afternoon 19th March 2018
'Quick Reaction Alert'
Both the squadrons at Araxos are involved with the QRA mission, rotating the responsibility on a weekly basis. At the time of our visit 335 Mira was conducting the role, with two F-16s providing the alert, both aircraft armed with 2 x AMRAAM (Advanced, Medium Range, Air to Air Missiles) and 2 x IRIS-T short-range infrared missiles. Col Sideridis told us; “Most of the incursions that result in QRA's are from our NATO ally in the east”. We asked him approximately how many QRAs they had conducted in the last 12 months, to which he simply responded; “A lot!" It is of course well documented about the Greek/Turkish border disputes over the Aegean Islands and so we won't get into that debate here, suffice to say that the Turkish Air Force keep the HAF fighter units 'on their toes'.
Purchased under the Peace Xenia IV deal with the United States government, the Lockheed-Martin F-16 Block 52+ (known as the 52M in Greece) is powered by the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engine and is equipped with the Northrop-Grumman AN/APG-68(V9) pulse-Doppler radar, the Block 52M F-16s at Araxos are the most advanced F-16s flown by the HAF. Their Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFT) provide an additional 450 U.S gallons of extra fuel, but do not impact drastically on the manoeuvrability of the aircraft, although the aircraft’s fly-by-wire control system does limit the flight envelope when they are fitted. A characteristic feature of the two-seat F-16D version is its enlarged dorsal spine, which house the electronics that are fitted behind the cockpit on the single-seat F-16C, allowing room for the rear cockpit on the D-version to be occupied either by a Weapon System Operator (WSO) or an Instructor Pilot (IP), the configuration being altered with a single switch in the cockpit. Whilst many of the systems on the Araxos-based F-16s are shared with the Block 52+ aircraft at Souda Bay and Larissa, the Araxos F-16s have several unique systems such as a digital video recorder and a Link-16 MIDS-LVT datalink system. Following withdrawal of the dedicated RF-4E Phantom reconnaissance aircraft from HAF service in 2017, the aircraft of 335 Mira took on a secondary reconnaissance role utilising the UTC DB-110 reconnaissance pod.
As well as providing air defence over the Greek mainland, 116 Combat Wing also deploys two-aircraft detachments to the island of Skyros (under the auspices of 135 Combat Group) and the Crete airfield at Kastelli (under the auspices of 133 Combat Group). A more recent role for 116CW has been to conduct NATO air policing. When Albania joined NATO in 2009, an arrangement similar to that for Slovenia was established with Greece and Italy ensuring coverage over Albania. Since then, Greece has also provided cover for Bulgaria and Montenegro under the control of Strategic Allied Forces Commander Europe (SACEUR), which is responsible for the implementation of the 24 hour/365 day air policing mission.
116 Combat Wing consists of two Mira (squadron); 335 and 336. The Wing has 30 aircraft on strength, split evenly between the two squadrons. The base has approximately 1,000 personnel supporting the operations at Araxos and is one of a number of HAF bases that provide Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) air defence within the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) on a 24/7 basis. The Wing is currently under the command of Colonel Dimitrios Sideridis, a 35-year veteran who took over command in July 2017, having previously been Operations and Training Director at Araxos. Born in Serres, Col. Sideridis has flown more than 3,000 hours on fast-jets, his formative years spent on the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter at Araxos between 1988 and 1990. Since 1990, Col. Sideridis has flown all models of the F-16 in the HAF inventory (Block 30, 40, 50, 52+ and 52M) over a period of 28 years. A vastly experienced officer and fighter pilot, Col. Sideridis has spent time as the Hellenic Air Force Air Tactics Center Commander at Andravida and also attended the NATO Air and ASACS TACEVAL School. He also headed the multi-national Steering Investigation Board (SIB) for the HAF F-16D at Los Llanos Air Base in Albacete, Spain, that crashed on 26th January 2015 during a Tactical Leadership Programme (TLP), which killed 11 people; the two pilots and nine on the ground. 21 others on the ground were also injured.
336 Mira ‘Olympos’ was formed on 25th February 1943 in Cairo, Egypt. Along with 335 Mira, the squadron entered the jet-age with the Republic F-84G at Elefsis. It then followed a similar path to 335 Mira as it re-equipped with the F-84F and then the F-104G Starfighter until March 31st 1993, when it received the A-7E. At the same time it converted to the A-7, 336 Mira also took up the role as the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) for the type. In March 2008 the squadron became the last squadron in the world to fly the A-7 Corsair, at the same time taking the aircraft of 335 Mira on charge as that squadron converted to the F-16. The Squadron continued to fly the A-7 until October 2014 when it converted to the F-16C/D, tasked solely with the air-to-air interceptor role.
116 Combat Wing
'Aegean Ghost Vipers'
The Greek Defence Minister, Panos Kammenos, announced on 9th February 2017 that the Hellenic Air Force planned to modernise its fleet of F-16s to F-16V standard, with the hope that it would be able to purchase the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II at a later date. The F-16V is an advanced variant of the Fighting Falcon and is fitted with the Northrop-Grumman AN/APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. Other improvements over the current Block 52s include a modern commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-based avionics subsystem; a large-format, high-resolution display; and a high-volume, high-speed data bus. The F-16V's operational capabilities are further enhanced through a Link-16 data-link, AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod, precision GPS navigation, and an Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS).
After much toing-and-froing, the Greek government finally approved the upgrade of 85 of its F-16 Block 52+/52+ Fighting Falcons on 28th April 2018 at an extraordinary meeting of the Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defence. Following its confirmation, the Greek Defence Ministry revealed that the cost of the programme would be in the region of €1.2bn ($1.45bn). Defence Minister Panos Kammenos stated that the deal was "a great day for the Hellenic Air Force." The first three F-16s will be upgraded in the United States by Lockheed Martin, with the remaining 82 aircraft having the work completed by Hellenic Aerospace Industries (HAI) at Tanagra, Greece. Reports are that the Greek government has proposed payments by annual instalments of €150 million instead of the €250 million requested by the United States, which according to the Minister of National Defence; the U.S has agreed to in principle. Of note is the fact that despite Greece's precarious monetary issues, it still spends two percent of its budget on defence, one of only five NATO members who meet this alliance target. The upgrade to F-16V configuration "will bolster the Hellenic Air Force’s ability to support NATO and remain interoperable with the U.S and the NATO alliance and improve Greece’s capability to meet current and future security threats. Greece will use this capability as a deterrent to regional threats, strengthen its homeland defence, and execute counter-terrorism operations."
The interesting thing is where this leaves Greece's older F-16 Block 30 and Block 50 aircraft, as they were expected to be part of the upgrade programme and are more in need of the upgrades than the newer and more effective Block 52/52+ aircraft. Whether this means that the older Block 30 and Block 50 aircraft remain in service or receive upgrades at a later date only time will tell, it may well be that the hope is for the F-35 Lightning II to replace these at some point in the future. This aside, there is no doubt that the F-16 Fighting Falcon will continue to guard the Aegean for many years to come and will remain at least for the foreseeable future, the Hellenic Air Force's most potent fighter aircraft.
Wearing the distinctive 'Tiger' markings at the top of the tailfin, this 335 Mira F-16C is seen departing for a mission