After a 10-Year Hiatus U.S. Military Returns to Iceland*
By Trude Pettersen
The U.S. Navy’s return to Keflavik revives an American presence that ended when the service shifted its focus in Europe away from the North Atlantic and toward the Mediterranean.
The Navy is asking for funds to upgrade an aircraft hangar at its former base in Keflavik, Iceland, as part of the Defense Department’s fiscal 2017 budget request, Navy officials say to Stars and Stripes. The hangar will house P-8 Poseidon aircraft, successor to the P-3 Orion once stationed at the base.
Established in 1951, the base is strategically located midway between the U.S. East Coast and Europe, making it ideal for patrolling the frigid waters between Greenland, Iceland and the U.K.
Naval Air Station Keflavik was home to thousands of service members who supported Navy and Air Force fighter jets, tankers and rescue helicopters before closing in 2006.
For now, the Navy is only interested in deploying maritime patrol aircraft for short durations, as needed, the official said. The Navy could eventually establish regular patrol rotations at the base, the official said, which would likely resemble the Navy’s maritime patrol force at its air base in Sigonella, Sicily, where squadrons rotate out every six months.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work visited Iceland last autumn to discuss future operations at Keflavik Air Base with Icelandic officials, Reykjavik Grapevine reported.
“Iceland has become increasingly concerned with the Russian activity,” Work said in an interview with Defense News.
“The Russians have long done transit flights where they pass close by Iceland, but they’ve recently made several circumnavigation flights – flying completely around the island nation. As a result, “Iceland is interested in increasing military cooperation.”
Russian submarines are also patrolling the North Atlantic more frequently than at any time since the end of the Cold War
The United States has a long relationship with Iceland, and by treaty since 1951 continues to be responsible for the defence of the country. Iceland has no military, but the country’s coast guard fulfils most military missions, and is responsible for maintaining Keflavik as a military installation. The last U.S. forces left Iceland in 2006.
U.S. aircraft occasionally still use the base’s facilities. Two F-16s landed there recently when they experienced mechanical difficulties flying across the Atlantic. A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance and patrol aircraft also visited the base over several days in April to assess the feasibility of operating the aircraft at Keflavik, from where P-3 Orions regularly flew missions during and after the Cold War.
Since 2008, Iceland’s air space has been patrolled by NATO allies as part of the Icelandic Air Policing operation.