In March 2006, the United States announced plans to remove miltiary forces and equipment from Iceland, stating that the resources were required elsewhere. 85th Group was inactivated in June 2006 and on 8 September 2006, the Navy disestablished Naval Air Station Keflavik, turning the facility over the Icelandic Defense Agency. As a result of the restructuring, the Iceland Defense Force was inactivated, as were its other remaining subordinate entities.
The Iceland Defense Force (IDF) was a subordinate unified command of US European Command and is composed of Army, Navy and Air Force personnel as well as local Icelandic civilians. Strategically located in the North Atlantic at Naval Air Station Keflavík, the IDF was key in keeping the sea and air lines of communication open between North America and Europe for more than 50 years. It provided a dynamic and challenging work environment with the overall responsibility for all military operations in Iceland resting with the IDF commander, an Air Force Colonel. The commander and his staff were responsible for actions taken in compliance with inter-governmental agreements and for conducting all joint planning matters affecting the defense of Iceland.
Though the formation of the Iceland Defense Force only occured in 1951, US involvement on the island traced its roots to the Second World War. During the war, Iceland was used as a base of operations for US and British forces engaged in the safe transit of supplies across the Atlantic ocean and those otherwise engaged in the conflict in that theater. After the end of the conflict, the Iceland government requested that all foreign forces leave the island. A limited agreement was reached in 1946 for continued American military use of Keflavík Airport, at the time one of the biggest such facilities in the world, which was then turned over to the Icelandic government. The US government retained the right to operate the airport through an American civilian contractor, but the servicemen had to leave the country in 1947. In 1949 Iceland was approached to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In the end, Iceland became a charter member of NATO, with the understanding that this commitment would neither require the establishment of its own armed forces, for which there were no available resources, nor the basing of foreign forces on its soil in peacetime.
The emerging Cold War and the conflict in Korea pushed the Iceland government to become a more active participant in NATO. Following a request from NATO for the establishment of a tangible defense for Iceland, a Defense Agreement between the United States and Iceland was signed on 5 May 1951. Under the agreement, the US assumed the defense of Iceland and the areas around the country on behalf of NATO, while Iceland was committed to providing the land necessary to carry this out. In essence, the Defense Agreement established the Iceland Defense Force on the condition that the impact of the force be limited and not impose any adverse effects on the local population as it did during World War II.
By virtue of the agreement, there was total coordination of US and Icelandic policies with regard to the operation of the Defense Force. Neither side could impose policies upon the other. Both sides had equal rights and obligations. In short, although there were different responsibilities, there was complete cooperation between Iceland and the United States in meeting their joint responsibilities to NATO.
The Defense Agreement permitted either side to request changes caused by national or international developments. In the early 1970s, when Iceland felt there should be some changes, discussions were held. These led to the 1974 Memorandum of Understanding under which manning levels and contractual obligations were amended to bring them in line with the times.
The Iceland Defense Force's official contact with the Government of Iceland was through the Iceland-US Defense Council, which met on a regular basis to identify and resolve issues related to military operations and the base population. By the turn of the millennia Icelandic members included 2 senior government officials and 5 politically appointed members who were prominent citizens. The American side was represented by the 5 senior military officers of the Defense Force, including the Commander, and one civilian officer.
In all policy matters the ultimate point of contact was between the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Government of Iceland, and the American Ambassador to Iceland. In this regard, the Commander, Iceland Defense Force had direct input into any discussions as a member of the Ambassador's Country Team. It was through such high level talks that the Defense Agreement was amended in 1974 by the Memorandum of Understanding.
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. Between 1947 and 51, while the base was operated by a US 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. However, 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 operated under a single source arrangement with allocation of new construction projects to IPC and most major maintenance projects undertaken by KC. Construction projects subsequently 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 make-up of the Defense Force changed between its creation in 1951 and its inactivation in 2006. The first contingent of US Army, US Navy and US Air Force units forming the Iceland Defense Force arrived on 7 May 1951, commanded by an Army brigadier general responsible to the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, for NATO operations and to the Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic, for tactical operations and control.
The first Army tactical unit in Iceland responsible for ground defense was the 3rd Battalion (Reinforced), 278th Infantry Regimental Combat Team. The Air Force 1400th Air Base Group was the controlling Air Force unit, until the Iceland Air Defense Force was established in April 1952 and assigned to the Military Air Transport Service (MATS), assuming all group operational and base support responsibilities. In June 1952, command of the Iceland Defense Force reverted to an Air Force brigadier general as the majority of the activities and buildup of the force was to be air defense related.
Air defense activity commenced in 1952 with the arrival of the 932nd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron and the 192nd Fighter Squadron flying the F-51 Mustang aircraft. No jet fighter units were available until 1953 when the 82nd Fighter Interceptor Squadron arrived with F-94B Starfire aircraft and relieved the 435th Fighter Squadron, which had assumed the responsibilities from the 192nd. Both squadrons had been in Iceland on 90-day deployments. The 82nd Fighter Interceptor Squadron was relieved by the 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron flying F-89 Scorpion jet fighters in November 1954.
In 1954, ground defense responsibility was taken over by the 99th Battalion Combat Team of the 74th Infantry Regimental Combat Team. The unit was reflagged as the 2nd Infantry Battalion Combat Team on 7 July 1955. It consisted of the 2nd Infantry Battalion, the 86th Field Artillery Battery, 95th Tank Platoon, the 52nd Infantry Heavy Mortar Platoon, the 525th Engineer Platoon, and a small aviation section of helicopters and a liaison plane. The US Navy Fleet Air Services Squadron 107 was the service unit for P-2 Neptune maritime patrol aircraft deployed to Keflavík and together these made up Naval Forces Iceland.
Four radar stations of the Iceland Air Defense System were operational by early 1958 in northwest, southwest, northeast and southeast Iceland. Air rescue service was provided by the 53rd Air Rescue Squadron, which had arrived at Keflavík in operating a variety of rescue aircraft and HH-19 helicopters. The 53rd Air Rescue Squadron remained in Iceland until 1960. In 1955, Barrier Force, Atlantic had been established in Argentia, Newfoundland, flying radar early-warning missions using the WV-2 Warning Star aircraft in the North Atlantic from 1957. These aircraft made frequent deployments to Keflavík.
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 1 January 1960.
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 Fighter Interceptor Squadron from F-89Ds to F-102A Delta Daggers 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. Fleet Air, Keflavík was established at the deactivation of Barrier Force Atlantic for command of naval operations in Iceland. As Soviet penetrations of the Iceland MADIZ showed a marked increase in 1968, a permanent deployment of Air Force EC-121 Warning Star early warning aircraft from the 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing out of Otis Air Force Base, was established at Keflavík. The P-2 Neptune aircraft had been replaced by P-3 Orions during the mid-1960s as well.
The F-102A aircraft of the 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron were replaced by F-4C Phantom II aircraft in 1973 which, in turn, were relieved by the F-4E model in 1978. In September 1978, the EC-121s were replaced by Boeing E-3A Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft. This was their first operational deployment outside the United States.
In the 1970s there had been signs of a greatly increased capabilities in the Soviet Northern Fleet to operate effectively in the North Atlantic. The "real time" operations of the Iceland Defense Force, 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. 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.
Army Forces Iceland (ARICE), a US Army headquarters element, was established in the United States in the early 1980s as the Army component of the Iceland Defense Force for the coordination of deployed forces assigned the ground defense mission. Between 1980 and 1993, the brunt of this mission was borne by the 187th Infantry Brigade (Separate) and supported by the 167th Support Group, both from the US Army Reserve.
In 1985 it was agreed to station a Royal Netherlands Navy P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft at Keflavík. This aircraft, as well as maritime patrol aircraft of other NATO countries that regularly deployed to Keflavík, operated as a part of the assigned maritime patrol forces. Also in 1985, the McDonnell Douglas F-15C/D Eagle aircraft took over in the intercept role.
As the Cold War came to an end at the end of the 1980s, 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.
Given the significant changes in the security environment in Europe and in the North Atlantic area caused by the end of the Cold War, and in accordance with the bilateral Defense Agreement of 1951, the United States Government and the Government of Iceland completed consultations concerning appropriate force levels at Keflavík in January 1994. The United States reaffirmed its commitment to the Defense Agreement, and Iceland affirmed that US and allied forces should remain in Iceland. The number of fighter aircraft would be reduced to a minimum of 4, but the capability and infrastructure for the operation of fighter aircraft at Keflavík were to be maintained, and 2 small naval communications units were to cease operations.
In January 1995 the 57th Fighter Squadron was relieved of its long standing air defense mission in Iceland by the first in a series of rotational deployments of between 4-6 F-15 aircraft provided by fighter units in the United States.
A second "agreed minute" signed in April 1996 addressed the continued stability in the defense relationship between the 2 countries for the next 5 years. Additionally, this document provided for continued effort to reduce, as much as possible, the cost of operating and maintaining the Defense Force and its infrastructure. This includes a phased plan to reach competitive bidding for all military construction by the year 2004.
The fundamental structure of the Iceland Defense Force remained largely unchanged since 1961 when the US Navy took over as host service. The US Naval Station, Keflavík, which had been renamed US Naval Air Station, Keflavík in 1986, provided logistical support for the Defense Force, while the maritime patrol forces under Commander, Iceland Sector Antisubmarine Warfare Group maintained surveillance and an antisubmarine warfare capability and the 85th Group (Air Forces Iceland) provided for air defense. Contingency plans provided for the augmentation of the peacetime force level in Iceland with the deployment of earmarked air and ground units appropriate to the threat at hand. The total number of aircraft assigned to Iceland decreased by one half (37 to 18) and the number of military personnel by one third (3,300 to 2,200) between 1990 and 1996.
In 1993, the combat portion of the ground defense mission was transferred to a Brigade Task Force from the 29th Infantry Division (Light), Virginia Army National Guard. Subsequently, in 1994 the ground combat mission was transferred from the 29th Division to the 27th Infantry Brigade, New York Army National Guard. Support for the ground defense role remained the responsibility of the 167th Support Group, US Army Reserve until US Army Forces, Iceland was inactivated.
In 1999, US Atlantic Command (USACOM), to which the Iceland Defense Force had been subordinate to was redesignated as US Joint Forces Command. The Iceland Defense Force remained assigned to US Joint Forces Command, until 2002, when it became a sub-unified command of US European Command. By 2003, the overall responsibility for all military operations in Iceland rested with the IDF commander, still a Navy rear admiral. The IDF commander was also Commander, Fleet Air Keflavik and Commander Iceland Sector Anti-Submarine Warfare Group. Approximately 1,800 US military personnel, 100 Department of Defense civilians, and 850 Icelandic civilians. as well as military members from the Netherlands, Norway, Canada and Denmark worked on NAS Keflavik as of 2003.
With the decision in March 2006, to remove US forces from Iceland, the forces there were almost immediately reduced. The US Navy's Patrol Squadron Keflavik was inactivated and its Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station (NCTS) Keflavik was replaced with the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic Detachment Iceland (NCTAMS LANT DET Iceland). The commander of the 85th Group (Air Forces Iceland) took over as the commander of the IDF, making the USAF the lead service for a brief period prior to the inactivation of the IDF. By the time the IDF was inactivated and NAS Keflavik was disestablished, approximately 1,350 US military personnel, 100 Department of Defense civilians, and 650 Icelandic civilians. as well as military members from the Netherlands and Denmark were still there.