period 1960-61 saw several changes in the structure of the Iceland
Defense Force. All Army units returned to the United States in March
1960, as a result of the implementation of new concepts in rapid
deployment by air, thus making the stationing of ground forces in
Iceland unnecessary. The Iceland Air Defense Force was redesignated
Air Forces Iceland on January 1, 1960.
In 1955, Barrier Force, Atlantic had been established in Argentia,
Newfoundland, flying radar early-warning missions using the WV-2
(EC-121) "Warning Star" aircraft in the North Atlantic from 1957.
These aircraft made frequent deployments to Keflavík.
On July 1, 1961, Commander Barrier Force, Atlantic moved from
Argentia to Keflavík and, as a result -- for better logistical and
operational control together with the increased emphasis on maritime
strategy in the region -- the Navy relieved the Air Force as host
military service in Iceland and Naval Station Keflavík was
established. The duties of Commander, Iceland Defense Force were
assumed by the rear admiral commanding Barrier Force Atlantic.
The 1960s saw considerable increase in Soviet military activity in
the Iceland area. With the conversion of the 57th FIS from F-89D
"Scorpion" to F-102A "Delta Dagger" aircraft in 1962, interceptions
of Soviet military aircraft within Iceland's Military Air Defense
Identification Zone (MADIZ) became frequent.
The two radar sites in northwest and northeast Iceland
closed in 1960 and 1961 because they were too difficult to maintain
and the Barrier Force Atlantic was deactivated in 1965. Thus, as
Soviet penetrations of the Iceland MADIZ showed a marked increase in
1968, a permanent deployment of Air Force EC-121 "Warning Star"
warning aircraft from the 551st AEW&C Wing, Otis Air Force Base, was
established at Keflavík. In September 1978, this mission was assumed
by the new Boeing E-3A "Sentry" Airborne Warning and Control System
This was their first operational deployment outside the United
States. The F-102A aircraft of the 57th FIS were replaced by F-4C
"Phantom II" aircraft in 1973 which, in turn, were relieved by the
F-4E model in 1978. The current McDonnell Douglas F-15C/D "Eagle"
aircraft took over the intercept role in 1985.
aviation has always played a large role in the operation at
Keflavík, especially with regard to the enormous build-up of the
Soviet Navy. Deployment of patrol squadron detachments, and later
entire squadrons, started as early as 1951, with the P-2 "Neptune"
maritime patrol aircraft succeeded by the Lockheed P-3 "Orion" in
the mid-1960s. Fleet Air, Keflavík was established at the
deactivation of Barrier Force Atlantic for command of naval
operations in Iceland.
Upon the arrival of the Defense Force in Iceland in 1951, housing
and support facilities were quite limited. At the peak of the Second
World War, thousands of troops were stationed at Keflavík in
temporary Quonset huts camps. During 1947-51, while the base was
operated by a U. S. civilian contractor company (Lockheed Aircraft
Overseas Service) as an international airport, most of these
temporary structures were salvaged or badly deteriorated.
The airfield complex, one of the largest in the world during the
war, also required upgrading to accommodate modern aircraft. The
contractor company had extended one runway, constructed a new
passenger terminal and hotel building, one aircraft hangar, a
hospital, housing units and other facilities for the staff. But this
was not sufficient for the new Defense Force, so additional
facilities had to be provided quickly. A crash reconstruction
program was initiated and temporary housing was erected during the
construction of permanent housing. The airfield was extended and two
new aircraft hangars were constructed. Most of this work was
completed by 1957.
A U. S. contractor company undertook this project using Icelandic
subcontractors at first. Later, as the Icelandic contractors
acquired the experience and know-how required for military
construction, it was agreed that the work would be assumed
completely by Icelanders with the formation of the Iceland Prime
Contractors (IPC) in 1954 and the Keflavík Contractors (KC) in 1957.
These contractor companies operate under a single source arrangement
with allocation of new construction projects to IPC and most major
maintenance projects undertaken by KC.
Construction projects have centered on modernization of the military
facilities, and expanded and improved housing and living conditions
for Defense Force members and their families to lessen the impact on
the local community.
the 1970s there were signs of a greatly increased capabilities in
the Soviet Northern Fleet to operate effectively in the North
Atlantic. Meeting the increased threat required considerable upgrade
of operational as well as command and control facilities in Iceland.
As a result, a new defense upgrade program was initiated in the
early 1980s, largely funded by the NATO Infrastructure Fund. This
program included the construction of a new fuel storage and harbor
facility near the Keflavík base, an upgrade of the air defense radar
system with two new radar
stations on the north coast, hardened facilities for the new F-15
fighter interceptor aircraft, communications, command and control as
well as expansion of the airfield and separation of the
international civil aviation from the military operation. The "real
time" operations of the Iceland Defense Force, i.e. the tracking of
Soviet submarines and surface ships and the interception of their
military flights in the vicinity of Iceland continued to increase in
the 1970s and the 1980s. In 1985 it was agreed to station a Royal
Netherlands Navy P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft at Keflavík.
This aircraft, as well as MPA aircraft of other NATO countries that
regularly deploy to Keflavík, operates as a part of the assigned
maritime patrol forces.
The great social and political changes in Eastern Europe in the late
1980s which spelled the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, fall of the
Soviet Union, and end to the Cold War resulted in a sharp decline in
this traffic. As a result, it was possible in 1991 to decrease the
number of assigned F-15 fighter aircraft from 18 to 12 as a part of
an overall USAF reconstruction and the permanent deployment of an
E-3 AWACS aircraft was done away with in June 1992 and replaced with
periodic training deployments.
E-3A and EC-121T at Kef courtesy Bob Perkins
Portions of this page from Iceland Defence Force Home Page
EC-121 pictures J. R. Batesole