KEFLAVIK, Iceland — In a secure compound near Keflavik International Airport, a multinational team of NATO personnel monitors Iceland’s airspace, ready to respond at a moment’s notice to any perceived threat to the region.
During Icelandic Air Surveillance and Policing 2015, 11 U.S. Air Force members and one Estonian air force member joined a full-time staff of Icelandic Coast Guard personnel to form the control and reporting center, a fully functional command center responsible for monitoring airspace and deploying alert forces should the need arise.
“We are here to augment the Icelandic Coast Guard CRC,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Christopher Howell, IAS CRC lead. “They do the surveillance mission and they are here 24/7, always watching out for the skies over Iceland.”
Although Iceland does not maintain a military force, its coast guard maintains constant watch over the surrounding airspace. During IAS, military aircraft with weapons are sharing that airspace, bringing a different aspect to the everyday ICG mission. That is where the USAF and NATO partners in the CRC come in.
“We augment them by bringing the weapons control capability, and we have members from all across the world,” Howell said. “As far as fitting into NATO, we bring a lot of different experiences and different people from around the world to help out.”
Augmenting the permanent ICG presence, the CRC for this mission is made up of members from the 606th Air Control Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany; the 729th ACS at Hill Air Force Base; the 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron in Vilseck, Germany; the U.S. Air Forces in Europe staff at Ramstein AB, Germany, and one controller from the Estonian air force.
Moving from a U.S.-specific system to a NATO system presents a unique set of challenges, but these issues were quickly mitigated by cooperation between the USAF controllers and their Estonian counterpart, Lt. Tõnis Pärn, who works with the NATO system on a day-to-day basis. Pärn is a fighter allocator from Control Reporting Post Ämari, Estonia, and played a crucial part in familiarizing Howell’s team with the system.
“(Lt. Pärn) played a huge part in filling in the gaps for us on a system we aren’t used to working on,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Joey Faraone, IAS CRC member from the 606th ACS. “The big picture was given by the ICG, and the details were filled in by Lt. Pärn, which is a huge help for us, so it’s really cool for us to partner up and continue that partnership capacity.”
Since the earliest days of NATO, the founding nations have shouldered the responsibility of protecting one another from outside aggression. Iceland is the only NATO country with no military, making this ongoing mission even more critical to the integrity of Icelandic airspace and the arctic region as a whole.
Icelandic Coast Guard Commander Senior Grade Jon Gudnason, ICG Base Keflavik commander, stressed the importance of the NATO fighter presence in the country.
“This is a great opportunity with the U.S. and other nations that come out here every year, to exercise and maintain our capability, to support training for our staff, and to show what NATO is for and show what the bilateral defense agreement between the U.S. and Iceland stands for,” he said.