The U.S. is sending a number of KC-135 tankers to Greece a Pentagon spokesman confirmed on Tuesday as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its third week.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby explained that the tankers would “provide additional aerial refueling support to the commander of U.S. European Command,” adding that there has been no change to President Biden’s decision against deploying U.S. forces to Ukraine.
The tankers are part of a new deployment of 500 U.S. troops aimed at bolstering NATO’s eastern flank.
The KC-135 Stratotankers will deploy to Souda Bay, Greece, and the remaining U.S. forces will head to Poland, Germany, and Romania. Kirby said that the troops in Poland and Romania will “provide additional command and control for U.S. European Command flight operations.”
Tankers based in Greece can double the combat radius of jets
These tankers could, for instance, enable a land-launched F-35A to double its combat radius, an article in the National Interest explains.
The presence of range-extending tankers means that U.S. and NATO attack aircraft would not need to be positioned further than Germany to operate in Ukrainian airspace. This would make enemy forces operating in Eastern Europe much more vulnerable to U.S. and NATO air attacks, should that somehow become necessary, it adds.
The KC-135 was initially tasked with refueling strategic bombers, but it was used extensively in the Vietnam War and later conflicts such as Operation Desert Storm to extend the range and endurance of US tactical fighters and bombers.
US B-52 strategic bombers in training with Greece’s airforce
The news comes as US Strategic Task Force type B-52 bombers conducted a training flight accompanied by two Hellenic F-16 fighter jets in the Athens FIR, sending a message to Russia. The exercise was carried out in the context of the “Onyx Hook” operation.
As announced, the joint training was conducted at the request of USEUCOM (US European Command). The Greek F-16s took on the role of intercepting and escorting the B-52s inside the Athens FIR after their entry from the Sofia FIR, with a route over Thrace, the Northern Sporades, Central Greece, and the Peloponnese.
The activity added to the announcement of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff (HNDGS), demonstrates the strong military ties between Greece and the United States and is part of the updated Mutual Defence Cooperation Agreement.