By: Kyle Rempfer, AirForce Times

Greek officials are seeking closer ties to the U.S. military, a move that occurs as Turkey refuses to back down on acquiring a Russian air defense system that could compromise NATO aircraft.

Athens and Washington have been discussing expanded operations at Larissa Air Base, in central Greece, which includes potentially stationing KC-135 tankers and unmanned aerial vehicles there, as well as expanding training operations, according to Kathimerini, a daily Athens newspaper.

U.S. Air Forces Europe would not comment on future basing or force structure changes, but expanding training with the Greeks appears to be in the works regarding INIOHOS, an air exercise between NATO allies and partner nations.

“They have expressed desires to increase the scope and stature of the exercise, and we are happy to support them as we can on their efforts,” said a U.S. Air Forces Europe official. “The U.S. Air Force is preparing for Stolen Cerberus, a routine exercise between the Hellenic air force and U.S. Air Forces in Europe. As INIOHOS is a Hellenic air force-led exercise, we defer to them on plans for future iterations.”

Unarmed reconnaissance MQ-9 Reapers are flying from Larissa Air Base until August, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said. However, he, too, refused to comment on discussions taking place that could expand that commitment, and deferred to previous remarks by Defense Department leaders.

Last year, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis teased the idea of an increased military presence in Greece for U.S. forces.

“There’s an open door for us; we have a close relationship,” Mattis said Oct. 9. “Really what it shows is the high, very high, levels of trust and transparency between us. And in that regard, we are always open to work with our NATO ally Greece on how we position our forces there in Europe.”

Mattis’ Greek counterpart was certainly interested.