Sending a Message With War-Ready F-4 Phantoms
In 1996, Greek fighters were ready to battle Turkish jets
Greece and Turkey are both members of NATO. But they’re also bitter rivals tangled up in longstanding territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea.
In January 1996 the disputes almost escalated into a full-scale shooting war when Turkish and Greek troops occupied the otherwise uninhabited island of Imia, which both countries claim. The European Union eventually sided with Greece in the spat, but not before both countries mobilized their armed forces for war.
During the incident, the Greek air force relied heavily on its aging F-4 Phantom fighters to fly combat air patrols (CAPs) and signal its resolve. Ioannis Lekkas tells the story in Combat Aircraft magazine:
During the night of the crisis, the main fighter force providing CAP duties was 337 Mira, its Phantoms having been granted rules of engagement to kill any ‘hostiles’ entering Hellenic airspace. Apart from one sortie by a [Greek air force] Mirage 2000 formation, the entire Aegean from south to north was guarded by F-4s.
These sorties were conducted under extreme weather conditions, with overcast covering all flight levels from 4,000 feet to 30,000 feet. Despite this, the ‘Ghosts’ accomplished all their missions without any cancellations. … Greek intelligence services intentionally allowed the orders to release weapons to be intercepted, giving a clear message to any potential violators of Hellenic airspace.
American diplomatic intervention helped to prevent any bloodshed and the Greek and Turkish forces left the island. Today the Greek air force still flies upgraded F-4s.