Source: In Depth News
In February 2016, the U.S. government started discussions with its Icelandic counterpart on the possibility of carrying out necessary changes to the doors of the NATO hangar at Keflavik airport so that newer, larger submarine reconnaissance planes could be housed there. The matter was eventually concluded in December 2017, when the U.S. government agreed to funding.
The hangar is located in the security zone of the old U.S. military base, “Naval Air Station Keflavik”, and the reconnaissance planes in question are of the Poseidon P-8A type, designed to track the increased presence of Russian nuclear and conventional submarines in waters around Iceland – the so-called Greenland, Iceland and United Kingdom (GIUK) Gap.
There are now more Russian nuclear and conventional submarines in the GIUK Gap than during the Cold War. According to Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, surveillance flights were made from Iceland on 77 days in 2016, whereas in 2017 such flights were made on 153 days, using P-3 and P-8A surveillance planes operated by the United States and other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) states. The P-3 is the predecessor of the P-8A.
“It was assumed from the beginning that the alterations would be funded by the U.S. government,” a Foreign Affairs ministry press officer said. In the United States 2018 Defence Budget, 14.4 million dollars was requested and allocated for “airfield upgrades” in Iceland, under Section 4602, Military Construction for Overseas Contingency Operations, and Section 2903, Air Force Construction and Land Acquisition Project. The latter allows the Secretary of the Air Force to acquire “real property” and carry out military construction projects for installations outside of the United States.
However, expenditure was also increased on the Icelandic side. In a report entitled Iceland’s Defence and NATO Operations in Iceland, dated March 8, 2017, the Icelandic Coastguard reports “increased maritime operations and capabilities”, while the Foreign Affairs Ministry says that operational funding was increased by 34 percent in the 2017 Icelandic budget “due to the operation of structures and an air defence system at Keflavik airport”.
The topic has been controversial, partly because the U.S. military left Iceland in September 2006 and there are fears that they may be considering a return. Although much of the deserted base is now being used for educational and high-tech purposes, part of the base is still closed to the public. Here, the Coastguard is responsible for maintaining hangars and other military facilities intact, while also overseeing air traffic control over Iceland, both of civilian and military planes.
In July 2016, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published a report in which it openly suggested: “NATO can optimise its ASW [anti-submarine warfare] posture to ensure that the right capabilities are in the right places at the right time by reopening Keflavik Naval Air Station in Iceland…”