"The Icelandic Coast Guard is as close as you can get to a military
force in Iceland,” says Jon Gudnason, Director of Defence and Security of the
Icelandic Coast Guard, as he explains the special and unique situation of Air
Surveillance over NATO’s Ally in the High North. "We are responsible for all
operational defence activities related to NATO including the Iceland Air Surveillance
system, NATO Air Policing, Host Nation Support and operation of Keflavik Air
Iceland has no military forces, therefore the country’s Coast Guard,
besides its original tasks of providing general Coast Guard duties, Search and
Rescue services at land and in sea, operates the NATO Iceland Air Defence
System (IADS) including Air Surveillance system of four radars and the NATO
Control and Reporting Centre, CRC Keflavik. These ground units feed the Recognized
Air Picture (RAP) into the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System, or
NATINAMDS overseen by the Allied Air Command (AIRCOM) at Ramstein, Germany.
The four huge three-dimensional radar systems have a coverage of 250
nautical miles and overlap one another covering an area equivalent to the size
of Germany. The system works 24/7/365 and outputs the data it collects as
tracks of aircraft. These tracks are processed by about 12 CRC surveillance
operators and transferred into NATO’s Combined Air Operation Centre at Uedem,
Germany, which is responsible for the airspace over NATO members’ north of the
When no fighter aircraft are deployed to Iceland, the CRC Keflavik
provides Air Surveillance functions to NATO.
When periodically NATO Allies deploy their fighter aircraft to Iceland
to provide a peacetime interception capability, they also detach fighter
controllers to the CRC. In all other NATO CRCs there are fighter controllers present
24/7 that can take action to respond to an unidentified track or aircraft inside
the airspace; the CAOC may launch NATO quick response alert jets in response
which are then controlled by CRC. When fighter aircraft are not in Iceland the CRC
identifies unknown aircraft and the CAOC may scrambles fighter aircraft in
response before they come close to Iceland or launches jets from faraway Allies
e.g. Norway or the United Kingdom as deemed necessary.
This is the case 8 to 9 months of the year; however, Iceland has
decided, back in 2008, on a different approach named Air Surveillance and
Interception Capability to meet Iceland’s Peacetime Preparedness Needs. The
periodic deployment of Allied fighter detachments is designed to help keep
Icelandic airspace safe and secure. Consequently Allies deploy a minimum of
four jets typically for three to four weeks, three to four times a year to
conduct air defence flying training missions and, once certified, to intercept
any unidentified aircraft. They also provide the necessary degree of training
of NATO and Icelandic surveillance personnel to make sure that the Alliance
could conduct a full-scale peacetime air policing mission at the shortest
possible notice if required by real world events. For all this the Icelandic
Coast Guard provides Host Nation Support and the critical Search and Rescue
service to the Allied fighters.
"Whenever the Allies deploy their fighters here at Keflavik, they
apply the local procedures,” says Gudmundur Hallgrimsson, a specialist at CRC.
"Their fighter controllers come to the CRC and work alongside us. We provide
them with all local procedures they need to know when they control their jets
during a scramble or training flights. At this dual-use airport it is important
to properly de-conflict their missions with civilian air traffic.”
The first such deployment in 2016 has been the US Air Force, Air National
Guard. Four F-15C fighter jets together with a KC-135 tanker aircraft and
approximately 160 airmen arrived at Keflavik Air Base in early April. After conducting
familiarization flights and being certified by CAOC Uedem they have conducted
the training that helps keep up NATO’s defensive peacetime posture in the High
North making the airspace above Iceland safe for all air traffic.
"Since 2008 there have been nine Allies that have deployed their
fighters and fighter controllers to Iceland,” says Jon Gudnason in conclusion.
"It is important for our CRC staff to get the experience of working with these
different nations just as it is most beneficial for them to become familiar
with how to operate in our airspace. We integrate as one team and what we are doing
here together is improving and maintaining the safety of all passengers on
board civilian airlines transiting our airspace.”
More to follow on the US deployment.
Story by HQ AIRCOM Public
Affairs, photos: Cynthia Vernat