HELSINKI — The government of Iceland is engaged in a dialogue with the United States over the proposed future deployment of Navy P-8 Poseidon submarine "hunter" aircraft from a renovated Keflavik Air Base.
The US Navy, which withdrew aircraft assets and personnel from the airport in 2006, plans to spend an initial $22 million to renew hangar facilities and restore infrastructure at Keflavik as part of a project to house P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft for maritime patrol operations in the North Atlantic.
The capital investment plan is included in the US Defense Department’s 2017 fiscal budget. Under the proposal, the Navy would use Keflavík Air Base to house P-8 Poseidon aircraft as needed. In effect, this would give the Navy the capacity to establish regular patrol rotations at the base in the future.
Iceland’s prime minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, said the US plan would add a new tier of security to the defense of the North Atlantic island.
However, Gunnlaugsson added that in ongoing discussions the US has made no mention of locating a permanent force at Keflavik at the level that existed before 2006 when the Navy operated P-3 Orion planes to police North Atlantic waters around Iceland and Greenland.
At peak, about 2,500 US Navy and Air Force personnel were stationed at the Keflavík Naval Air Station.
"The US proposal for Keflavik is welcome, but we have had no talks about increased operations from there. Should more flights and operations happen, then this is already covered under our current defense agreements with the US," said Gunnlaugsson.
The Navy’s decision to withdraw from Iceland in 2006 happened against a backdrop that saw the US shift its operational focus in Europe away from the North Atlantic and toward the Mediterranean Sea.
Established in 1951, the Keflavik Naval Air Station became an important base for the US as it is strategically located midway between the United States’ East Coast and Europe. It allowed Navy P-3 Orion and fighter aircraft to patrol Arctic and sub-Arctic ocean waters in the North Atlantic between Greenland, Iceland and Britain.
Recent inter-government discussions with the US have focused increasing on Iceland’s concerns over a surge in the activity of Russian military aircraft and submarines in the air and waters around the island. Russian activity, according to Iceland, is now running at levels not witnessed since the end of the Cold War.
Under a treaty signed in 1951, the US continues to be responsible for the defense of Iceland, which has a small coast guard but no standing army or military organization. Since 2008, Iceland’s air space has been patrolled by NATO allies as part of the Icelandic Air Policing operation.