Keflavík NAS

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The 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
were 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" New-3.jpg (18014 bytes)early 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 (AWACS) aircraft.

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.

new-4.jpg (188839 bytes)Naval 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.

In 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