Larissa is becoming another Souda, as US forces amass
- Written by E.Tsiliopoulos
Larissa, and more specifically the air base where the 110th Fighter Wing of the Air Force is located, has been the focus of the US lately. The base has been dynamically included in the planning of the US in the region, since it is also included in the Greek-American Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) in the context of the "facilities" provided on Greek soil.
And according to military analysts, if Alexandroupolis and Souda have attracted Turkey's attention due to the publicity given to these two areas, Larissa is expected to become a base of equal – perhaps greater – importance, as far as the US Air Force is concerned.
The US needs the facilities in the area to ensure its absolute control, according to the indications. Since when asked the officials either at the Pentagon or at the US diplomatic mission they answer that nothing "new" is being planned for the area.
"Under the Radar"
Somehow, the bases in Larissa and Stefanovikio went under the publicity "radar". Even if the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to complain that the Greek governments are turning the country into an American camp.
In Larissa, at the air base of the 110th Fighter Wing, within the framework of the provisions of the MDCA, eight American MQ-9 REAPER unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been stationed since November 12. It's not the first time. A rotation of such systems has been undertaken periodically since 2018.
As military sources have repeatedly clarified, they are used exclusively by the US forces, while there is - at present - no plan or program of co-training.
However, the increase in their number (they started with two and reached eight) is characterized as a particularly important upgrade.
At the same time, the work carried out at the Larissa air base has generated interest and scenarios for designs with a perspective of "permanence" that do not only concern the specific aircraft.
After all, the indefinite renewal of the MDCA was justified with this very narrative. That the US wants to be able to invest in the bases where it is given "facilities" free of renewal timetables and with an agreement that will provide a range of time.
The decision of the USA to invest more in the air base of Larissa and to upgrade it, with the aim of creating the permanent base of the command of the American Air Force Europe - Africa (USAFE - AFAFRICA) is described as received in the publications of the local newspapers (Elibertia).
While the works have also activated the reflexes of political forces distinguished for their information in such planning, such as the Greek communist party-KKE. Indicative is the reaction of the Larissa Peace Committee, which in a related announcement (19/10/2022) has pointed out that the Americans have invested "several million dollars to upgrade the air base with new hangars and support buildings", turning Thessaly into a "US-NATO base".
With pundits referring to important work within the base that is underway and showing that in the future its role will be highly upgraded. Contractors are already on the job and private companies in a rush of work.
Support and Dispersal Hub
The MQ-9 REAPER reconnaissance aircraft, according to the announcement, will remain in Larissa for one year, nevertheless the investment that is being implemented and has attracted attention confirms that the 110th Fighter Wing operates as a support and deployment hub for American air forces in the wider region.
And it confirms its own importance to the US. How it will be utilized in its final form remains to be proven and the scenarios refer to repositioning of fighter squadrons there from the US in order to take part in exercises in Europe, flying tankers, and other assets. With the numbers for US personnel employed to estimated at 150 people.
The scenarios that have been triggered for the upgrade of the base also arouse the interest of the local economy, which sees it as an opportunity. And those who know the developments should call on the over-optimistic to exercise self-restraint, although they recognize that something is afoot.
Beyond Larissa, the US uses "facilitation" provided for in the MDCA for Stefanovikio as well. UH-60 Black Hawk personnel and helicopters of the 1st CAB Combat Aviation Brigade of the US Army. These forces participate in joint drills and demonstrations of capabilities with Greek forces from time to time.
Under Russia's gaze
It should be noted that the facilities in question, due to the American presence, have been rhetorically targeted by Russia, after the invasion of Ukraine. And this is because the spy MQ9 Reaper which Greece would also be interested in acquiring is considered to be able to control the wider region in their operations and also targets the Black Sea.
The area is also particularly important for the Greek armed forces, since the 110th Fighter Wing in Larissa is the base of the F-16s, as is the 111th Fighter Wing in Nea Aghialos. The 32nd Marine Brigade is also located at the Georgoula camp in Volos. The presence of the 32nd Brigade in Volos is what has given birth to the debate on whether a Naval Station should be established in Almyros Volos. A project supported by the GEETHA Chief in order to accommodate the tankers with the aim of transporting the marines wherever they are needed…
The plan for the Naval Station in Almyros
The decision for the inclusion of the Project "Studies for the construction of the Pagasitikos Naval Base", with OPS Code 5198281 (MIS), in the 2021-2025 sector development program of the Ministry of National Defense and in the axis priority "Port infrastructure" has been posted on thye government's diavgia.gr network. And according to this, the Hellenic Armed Forces General Staff in collaboration with the Naval General Staff (GEN) are invited to gather in time, the necessary evidence of settlement of the ownership status of the lands where the action will be carried out, with a completion date of August 10, 2025.
Aim to serve the 32nd Marine Brigade which is based in Volos. With the location deemed suitable for Marines to access the firing ranges and areas required for their training and the base to be able to serve them "without wasting valuable time".
Pros and cons
The head of the General Staff, General Konstantinos Floros, has repeatedly stated that he is a supporter of the plan in question, who had also mentioned it at the Naval Power Conference last December, including it in the wider planning for the upgrading of naval infrastructure and talking about the "creation of a dock in Almyros of Volos where our Transport ships will be chartered right next to their physical continuation, namely the 32nd Marine Brigade".
One could think that the project would also give economic life to the region. Despite all these "buts" there are many. The creation of a Naval Station in Almyros has several fierce critics who speak of plans on paper without operational criteria, underlining the financial costs. Since a naval station requires infrastructure, personnel and workshops. Is such an expense worth it for this purpose?
Given that there is a series of events between the start of the implementation of the plan, the discussions and arguments with exchange of arguments are expected to continue...
Whether the Pagasitikos naval station may also be a design involving US forces is not yet known and remains to be seen if and when the project is completed.
The permanence of American bases
It is worth noting that the last renewal of the MDCA took place in October 2021. With US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken noting that "US forces in Greece will be able to access more locations". The agreement is valid for five years and thereafter "will remain in force unless terminated on either date by written notice to the other party two years in advance through diplomatic channels." In November 2021, Erdogan stated that "The American military bases in Greece are so many that they cannot be counted," he said. Greece has practically become an outpost of America."
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