MILAN, Italy — Several U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drones have found a new base in the newly upgraded Larissa air base in Greece, as American military officials keep an eye on NATO’s southern and eastern borders.
Work on the base near the eastern shores of the Aegean Sea proceeded during much of 2022. It was slated to include new maintenance shelters, ramps and taxiway extensions, with a local construction contract for $21 million due to finish in recent weeks.
This modernization tallied with the arrival of a number of Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles at the Greek airfield, as reported by the Greek Reporter in late November. A spokesman for the U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Africa confirmed the arrival to Defense News, saying”the U.S. and Greece worked together to ensure the Larissa base had the capabilities” to support the MQ-9s.
“Larissa Air Base is a strategic location, allowing the MQ-9s to easily support both the eastern and southern flanks of NATO,” the spokesman said. “The move [to place them there] is not in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but this placement does support deterring and avoiding conflict with Russia.”
Officials declined to specify the number of drones based at the installation, citing operational security, though local reports have described eight.
Their deployment was authorized under amendments made to the U.S.-Greek Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) going back to 1990. Among the changes, most recently agreed in 2021, Washington is now allowed to carry out at both Larissa Air Base and Stefanovikio Army Aviation Base the following missions: operation, maintenance and support of U.S. maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, some technical ground processing, as well as sustainment and support of airlift and logistics support, including tanker aircraft.
The Greek military itself also is trying to get its hands on MQ-9 drones. Athens submitted a program for the acquisition of three of these systems to its Parliamentary Arms Committee, which was approved in July 2022.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.