Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Icelandic defense exercise kicks off

by Capt. Joel Harper
U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs

KEFLAVIK, Iceland (AFPN) - Leaders from the United States and Iceland joined NATO partners Aug. 13 to kick off an exercise to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the 1951 bilateral U.S.-Iceland defense agreement and reinvigorate air defense command and control capabilities of joint and coalition forces in Iceland.

Exercise Northern Viking 2007 provides a basis for continued U.S. presence and points out the critical nature of the Icelandic Air Defense System to NATO's control and security of air space, said Gen. William T. Hobbins, U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander.

"This exercise is an integral part of the efforts by the United States and other NATO allies to work with Iceland to modernize its defense strategy to meet the threats of the 21st century," said General Hobbins.

The general was joined by Iceland Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde during the opening ceremonies of the event. Prime Minister Haarde said that exercises such as this one were important for the future of Iceland's defense.

"I look forward to successful exercises under Northern Viking this year. This will contribute to the security of Iceland and Alliance as a whole." he said.

Nearly 200 USAFE Airmen from Royal Air Force Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall, England, and Ramstein Air Base, Germany, joined forces from Iceland, Norway, Denmark and NATO.

Exercise aircraft include NATO's E-3A AWACS from Geilenkirchen, Germany; F-15 Eagles and KC-135 Stratotankers from Lakenheath and Mildenhall; F-16 Fighting Falcons, a P-3 Orion and an E-3A AWACS from Norway; a frigate with a search and rescue helicopter capability from Denmark; and search and rescue forces from Iceland.

A separate, but simultaneous anti-terrorist piece of the exercise includes special forces from Latvia, Iceland police and Icelandic Ministry of Defense personnel.

From the air defense point of view, the exercise trains aircrews from participating nations to conduct air operations designed to protect Iceland from airborne threats. NATO partners work together to locate and identify unknown aircraft to determine if they are a threat and if necessary scramble aircraft to deal with the situation, said General Hobbins.

Northern Viking 2007 is the first exercise in Iceland involving the U.S. Air Force since the closure of Naval Air Station Keflavik in October 2006.

Iceland, which has no military forces, depends on the United States for its defense needs under the 1951 agreement signed by both nations. NATO and United States continue to abide by their long-standing commitment to defend Iceland if it comes under attack. Iceland is also a 1949 signatory to the original NATO Treaty.

Advances in technology and information-sharing allow the United States to exercise more efficiently and with fewer resources than in the past and still demonstrate U.S. commitment as well as combined capabilities. Exercise costs were reduced considerably due to Iceland's support of aircraft and personnel with significant logistical contributions, said General Hobbins.

"As we have for almost 60 years, we will stand together with Iceland in facing any threats that may arise," said General Hobbins.