Greece and France signed a $3 billion warplane deal on Monday as part of a burgeoning arms programme to counter Turkish challenges in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Future Combat Air System (FCAS), being built by German, French and Spanish firms, is a key part of Macron's push for military sovereignty on the Continent and his aim to lessen its reliance on the NATO alliance.
So far governments have only approved funding for prototype and design contracts, a small fraction of the multibillion-euro budget for the 20-year project.
Signing contracts for the next studies would mean a one billion euro ($1.2 billion) commitment to building the demonstrator plane, expected to cost six billion euros alone, a source close to the project told AFP.
Greece to buy Rafale jets
The deal will see Greece buying 18 Rafale jets, 12 of them used, made by French firm Dassault to bolster its forces during their regular mid-air skirmishes with Turkish pilots over disputed Aegean airspace.
Greece pushes for Rafales
Athens has agreed to acquire advanced fighter aircraft as it moves ahead with plans to beef up its military capacity during a dispute with neighbouring Turkey over energy resources in the Mediterranean.
"It is literally a national issue that is imperative because of the current geopolitical situation with its many and complex security threats and challenges in our wider region but also because of the policies, or the overall behaviour of our neighbour who directly disputes our sovereign rights and threatens peace and stability in the eastern Mediterranean," said Greek Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos before the vote in parliament.
The agreement includes six new and 12 used Rafale jets with the first deliveries expected during the first half of the year, the government has said.
Greece to upgrade F-16 fighters
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' conservative government has said it wants to invest in the armed forces, increasing personnel, acquiring new frigates, helicopters and drones, and upgrading its existing fleet of F-16 fighters.
The deal "sends a clear message in several directions", said Greek Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos who oversaw a signing ceremony with French counterpart Florence Parly in Athens.
Greek government spokesman Christos Tarantilis said delivery of the first six planes would begin in July.
Rafale and Eurofighter jets
Airbus and France's Dassault Aviation are spearheading the plane's development, alongside Safran and Thales of France, German engine maker MTU, and the European missile joint venture MBDA.
The new stealth delta-wing jets, which will replace the current generation of Rafale and Eurofighter jets, are set to be operational in 2040.
Qatar is also an important buyer of French military hardware with its order for 36 Rafale fighter planes worth 8.7 billion euros, according the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Military Balance survey.
Airbus and Thales boast of having the strongest international presence -- each is represented in 24 countries, ahead of US Boeing.
Greece's most ambitious plan in decades, includes four multi-purpose frigates, four navy helicopters, anti-tank weapons, navy torpedoes, Air Force missiles and 15,000 additional troops by 2025.
Turkey in August sent an exploration ship and a small navy flotilla to conduct seismic research in waters which Greece considers its own under postwar treaties.
Greece responded by shadowing the Turkish flotilla with its warships, and by staging naval exercises with several EU allies and the United Arab Emirates.
In contrast to other EU and NATO allies, France strongly backed Greece in the showdown with Turkey.
French group Dassault
According to a report by the SIPRI research institute, French group Dassault had shot up from 38th to 17th place, boosted by exports of its Rafale fighter jets in 2019.
The US arms industry accounted for 61 percent of sales by the world's "Top 25" manufacturers last year, ahead of China's 15.7 percent, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Rafale jets more advanced than the French counterparts?
Recently, an Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot said Indian Rafale jets are more advanced and faster than the French counterparts.
IAF's Sarthak Kumar made these comments during the four-day wargames with the French Air Force jets in the 2021 Indo-French air exercise, 'Garuda' which has been named 'Desert Knight-21' for this year.
According to a government release, the French side participated with Rafale, Airbus A-330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), A-400M Tactical Transport aircraft and approximately 175 personnel. The Indian Air Force aircraft participating in the exercise will include Mirage 2000, Su-30 MKI, Rafale, IL-78 Flight Refuelling Aircraft, AWACS and AEW&C aircraft.
'Garuda' is a joint air exercise which started in 2003 and is conducted alternatively in France and India. It began on January 20 and will conclude on January 24 this year.