US Military Returns to Iceland: Cold War Base to Reopen
Andrei AKULOV | 23.02.2016 | FEATURED STORY

US Military Returns to Iceland: Cold War Base to Reopen

The United States has a long relationship with Iceland. Since 1951, when a treaty was signed, it continues to be responsible for the defense of the country. Iceland has no military, but the country’s coast guard fulfills most military missions, and is responsible for maintaining Keflavik as a military installation.

The base, situated at Keflavik International Airport close to the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, was first opened as a strategic US airbase for US bombers during World War II. However, the base acquired key strategic significance during the Cold War as it allowed easy access for the US to patrol the North Atlantic against potential «Soviet threats».

In 2006 the US military left Keflavik, as the Navy shifted its focus away from the North Atlantic and toward the Mediterranean. Now, in a sharp change reminiscent of the Cold War, the US is reopening its former military base. Indeed, the strategic location midway between the US and Europe makes Keflavik ideal for patrolling the waters off the coasts of the UK, Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland. The value of the facility is immense for sending military reinforcements to Europe in case of a large-scale war. 

US Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work visited Iceland last year to discuss the details with the Icelandic authorities.

During the visit he noted that the country was «…an incredible partner. They have a longstanding relationship in coordinating P-3 flights, and we’d like to see what they can do to assist P-8 operations. They’re committed to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and they’re thinking about the P-8».

Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson welcomes US military projects in Iceland. «I first heard about this on the news that the US military plans to put some money into renovating an old hangar, and there is nothing but good things to say about that if it creates jobs for workers in Suðurnes», he said in his remarks on the issue.

When asked if he thought the operations would increase, he answered, «They will probably want to fly some more over here and that is in accordance with current agreements with the US». 

It was reported then that according to the proposed budget for next year, Iceland increased allocations for military purposes. It was decided that «emphasis has been placed on NATO member states increasing their payments to the common defence of the alliance, especially in light of security developments in Europe», Icelandic media reported.

Some facilities in Keflavik are maintained in operational or near-operational condition – barracks, command centers, fuel facilities, weapons storage facilities, and about 21 hardened aircraft shelters dating back to the mid-1980s, including a large hangar built to support B-52 bombers. US aircraft occasionally still use the base’s facilities. Many installations are dispersed and constructed as protected bunkers. A US Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance and patrol aircraft also visited the base over several days in April to assess the feasibility of operating the aircraft at Keflavik. Also present were four Danish F-16 fighters that operate from the Keflavik. Since 2008, Iceland’s air space has been patrolled by NATO allies as part of the Icelandic Air Policing operation.

The US Navy is asking for funds to upgrade an aircraft hangar at its former base in Keflavik, as part of the Defense Department’s fiscal 2017 budget request, Navy officials said  to Stars and Stripes.

The upgrade would allow the US to fly P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft over the North Atlantic with ease – currently, the US has to fly the aircraft out of a base in Sicily to the Atlantic for operations. A modernized hangar will house P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (submarine hunters). The Navy could eventually establish regular patrol rotations at the base, which would likely resemble the Navy’s maritime patrol force at its air base in Sigonella, Sicily, where squadrons rotate out every six months.

The activities to modernize a strategically important base in the Atlantic should be viewed as part of a broader picture. 

The US has stepped on the road to confrontation with Russia. In 2014, President Obama kicked off the European Reassurance Initiative, or ERI, to conduct military exercises and pre-position tanks and other equipment in the vicinity of Russia’s borders. If Congress decides to fund it, the expanded ERI will be at the core of this policy. With the third US Army brigade, the Pentagon says it would be able to maintain a constant presence in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, plus «periodic» deployments to Bulgaria and Romania.

In the US Department of Defense’s budget request for the 2017 fiscal year, the US military asks for $3.4 billion more to keep this program going. This is more than four times the amount the Pentagon asked for in the previous budget. US servicemen will visit and train within NATO members and other countries, including Ukraine, a Russian neighbor.

In addition, the funds would help to stockpile extra gear in Eastern Europe – viewed as a possible future front line. Military infrastructure will be upgraded. Most importantly, Washington plans to up the number of American forces present in Europe at any given time – including a full armored brigade of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers with tanks and other heavy vehicles. This is on top of more than 70,000 troops the Pentagon already has in the region. The US Army already has a battalion’s worth of tanks and other supplies positioned and ready to go on short notice in Grafenwoehr, Germany. The new stocks will be closer to the new potential front lines in the Baltic States and elsewhere. All told, the Army wants to have the equipment required for an armored brigade, an artillery brigade and a support brigade, plus division headquarters to oversee those units. With everything in place, the Pentagon could just fly in more than 10,000 troops needed to staff these units during a crisis.

In the fall of 2014, the Marine Corps had announced similar plans to update its own storehouses, which are hidden inside caves  in Norway.

The US Marine Corps will keep working out of the bases near the Black Sea, as well.

US Special Operations Forces (SOF) would get $25 million to step up training with their Central and Eastern European counterparts.

Off the coasts, the Pentagon would work with NATO members and other countries like Sweden and Finland to practice chasing Russian submarines.

The Air Force will keep 20 F-15C fighter jets on station in the United Kingdom. It will continue to send other planes to the region, for instance, A-10 ground attack fortresses, stealthy fifth generation F-22 fighter jets and B-52 strategic bombers. And the Pentagon wants to survey the Baltic region and Eastern Europe for radio frequency issues that could conflict with drone signals. At least two MQ-1 Predators are stationed in Latvia to enhance NATO’s close-air-support, air interdiction, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability. All of these activities would require new or expanded facilities. The Air Force alone would get more than $63 million to build new hangers, fuel storages, aircraft parking spots and other buildings at five separate air bases in Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. Another $21 million would go to building hangers to host Navy P-8 sub hunters in Keflavik.

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Last June Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking at joint press conference with the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö told reporters, «We will be forced to aim our armed forces... at those territories from where the threat comes».

Responding to repeated claims of Russian aggression, Putin pointed out that it was NATO which had expanded up to Russia’s borders. «It is NATO that is moving towards our border and we aren’t moving anywhere», he stated. The President also cited his opposition to longstanding NATO plans for the construction of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe that would be directed at Russia.

In a recent commentary, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, dismissed claims of Russia’s growing threat to US security as «belligerent nonsense».

«It remains the case that NATO countries hugely outspend Moscow when it comes to military procurement», he observed. «There is no evidence whatsoever that Russia, as when it was the Soviet Union, is embarked on a wanton course of global expansion. This is a country that unilaterally pulled its occupying troops out of Eastern Europe, a door closing on the Cold War».

Rohrabacher added, «Obviously, some highly influential people can’t accept that and leave the Cold War behind, their mindsets and careers linked to a lingering enmity between the Kremlin and the White House. In particular, they can be found as think tank strategists and arms merchants».

The US Navy getting back to Keflavik puts into jeopardy Russian Navy and Air Force   operations in the Atlantic. This step cannot be perceived as anything else but the implementation of broader plans to launch a large-scale war against Russia. The US and its NATO allies have heightened the already high tensions in a dangerous game of bringing the world closer to the abyss of military conflict. 

Tags: NATO  Pentagon  US Navy  Iceland  US