Naval Air Station Keflavik
|Naval Air Station Keflavik|
|Located at Keflavík International Airport, Iceland|
NAS Keflavik, Iceland, in 1982
|Controlled by||Icelandic Coast Guard|
Naval Air Station Keflavik (NASKEF) is a U.S. Navy base at Keflavík International Airport, Iceland. It is located on the Reykjanes peninsula on the south-west portion of the island. Built during World War II by the United States Army as part of its mission to maintain the defense of Iceland and secure northern Atlantic air routes, it served to ferry personnel, equipment, and supplies to Europe. Intended as a temporary wartime base under an agreement with Iceland and the British, US forces withdrew by 1947, but returned in 1951 as the Iceland Defense Force, now operating a NATO base. NASKEF was closed on 8 September 2006 and its facilities taken over by the Icelandic Defence Agency as their primary base until 1 January 2011 when the Agency was abolished. The base is regularly visited by the American military, which uses it for emergency landings. In 2016 the United States began preparations to re-occupy the base. In 2017 the United States announced its intention to construct a modern air base on the peninsula.
After gaining independence from Denmark in 1918 with the signing of the 25-year Danish-Icelandic Act of Union, Iceland followed a policy of strict neutrality. In 1939, with war imminent in Europe, the German Reich pressed for landing rights for Lufthansa's aircraft for alleged trans-Atlantic flights. The Icelandic government turned them down.
A British request to establish bases in Iceland for the protection of the vital North Atlantic supply lines after German forces occupied Denmark and Norway in April 1940 also was turned down in accordance with the neutrality policy. Nevertheless, the British government felt that it could not do without bases in Iceland and on 10 May 1940 the people of Reykjavík awoke to the sight of a British invasion force. The government of Iceland protested the invasion but asked the populace to treat the occupying force as guests.
Following talks between British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States, Iceland agreed to a tripartite treaty under which United States Marines were to relieve the British garrison in Iceland on the condition that all military forces be withdrawn from Iceland immediately upon the conclusion of the war in Europe. In addition to their defense role, U.S. forces constructed the Keflavik Airport as a refueling point for aircraft deliveries and cargo flights to Europe.
With the end of the war in Europe, Keflavik Airport became a transit point for aircraft returning from the European Theater of Operations to the United States. With American air activities greatly reduced in Europe in the immediate postwar months, U.S. flying operations were similarly reduced in preparation for transfer of the base to the Icelandic government at the end of 1946. With all noncritical surplus equipment and supplies disposed of, all U.S. air activity ended at the airfield on 11 March 1947.
United States Air Force use
Another agreement signed between the United States and Iceland in 1946 permitted continued use of the base by the United States. The United States provided all the maintenance and operation of the airport through an American civilian contractor. American Overseas Airlines, followed by Airport Overseas Corporation personnel, operated the military portion of Keflavik Airport after its reversion to Icelandic control at the end of March 1947.
In 1949, Iceland voted to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) among protests about the US militarizing the country, and the base became a Cold War base. Joining NATO required neither the establishment of an Icelandic armed force, nor the stationing of foreign troops in the country during peacetime. However, with the developing Cold War with the Soviet Union, and world tensions increasing, Iceland's leaders reconsidered. Icelandic officials decided that membership in the NATO alliance was not a sufficient defense and, at the request of NATO, entered into a defense agreement with the United States. This was the beginning of the Iceland Defense Force. Over the next four decades, the Defense Force was "at the front" of the Cold War and was credited with playing a significant role in deterrence.
On 25 May 1951 the U.S. Air Force reestablished a presence at Keflavik Airport with the establishment of the 1400th Air Base Group. Jurisdiction of the airport was assumed by Military Air Transport Service (MATS). MATS re-established a military air terminal and refueling point for trans-Atlantic air service between the United States and Europe at Keflavik. MATS (later MAC and Air Mobility Command) units remained at the airport until the withdrawal of United States military units from Iceland in 2006.
During 1947–51, while the base was operated by a US civilian contractor company most of the World War II temporary structures were left empty and became badly deteriorated. The airfield complex, one of the largest in the world during the war, also required upgrading to accommodate modern aircraft. The contractor 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 insufficient 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 by the Nello L. Teer Company and two new aircraft hangars were constructed. Most of this work was completed by 1957.
Soon after the return of US forces to Keflavik. Air Defense Command (ADC) established a temporary radar station at the airport, equipped with World War II-era AN/TPS-1 and AN/TPS-3A radars that operated until a permanent radar station could be constructed at nearby Rockville AS.
Between 1952 and 2006, Air Forces Iceland provided air defense for Iceland, operated Keflavik Airport, and furnished base support for all U.S. military forces in Iceland participating in its defense under NATO. Also Air Force component of NATO Iceland Defense Force.
ADC, later renamed Aerospace Defense Command used the facility for air surveillance of Iceland and the North Atlantic, employing F-102 Delta Dagger and then F-4C Phantom II fighters as interceptors. Over 1,000 intercepts of Soviet aircraft took place inside Iceland's Military Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).
The United States Navy assumed the responsibility of running the air station from MATS in 1961.
On 1 October 1979 Tactical Air Command (TAC) absorbed ADC's assets, and the F-4E Phantom II aircraft of the 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (57 FIS). In July 1985, F-15Cs and F-15Ds replaced the aging F-4s, and the tail code "IS" was assigned to Air Forces Iceland (AFI).
During the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, Keflavik also hosted rotational E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft and KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft from CONUS to support the air defense mission and rotational HC-130 Hercules aircraft from RAF Woodbridge from the 67th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron to support their detachment of Keflavik-based HH-3 Jolly Green Giant and later HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters in their search and rescue mission.
Beginning in 1984, the 932d Air Control Squadron established a Radar Operations Control Center at Keflavik which coordinated the 57th FIS interceptors to contacts passing through the GIUK gap. It received long-range radar inputs from 5 radar sites: the four sites in Iceland plus a data-tie from the Thorshavn AS radar in the Faroe Islands. Thorshavn was located atop Mount Sornfelli. The ROCC remained active until the turnover of the facility in 2006.
Air Forces Iceland continued the air defense mission of Iceland as a tenant organization at Keflavik. Under ADC until 1979 and under TAC until 1992. On 1 June 1992, Air Combat Command (ACC) assumed command and control of AFI and the 57 FIS. Less than a year later, the 57 FIS was redesignated as the 57 Fighter Squadron (57 FS) and reassigned to the 35th Fighter Wing that was transferred from the closing George AFB, California.
On 1 October 1994, the 35th Wing was inactivated at Keflavik and reactivated that same day at Misawa Air Base in Misawa, Japan. The 35th Wing was replaced by the newly activated 85th Wing. On 1 March 1995, the 57th FS was inactivated and the interceptor force was replaced by Regular Air Force and Air National Guard F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft rotating every 90 days to Iceland until the USAF inactivated the 85th Group in 2002. United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) took over ACC responsibilities at Keflavik on 1 October 2002 as part of a larger restructuring of the unified commands.
The 85th was reduced to a Group level and supported rotational deployments. The 85th Group continued to support rotational deployments until it was inactivated during a ceremony on 28 June 2006, as a result of the Air Force reduction in forces in Iceland. All rotational fighters left and the 56th Rescue Squadron ceased operation at the end of the fiscal year.
- Reykjavik Administrative Area, 6 August 1941
- Meeks Field, 1 July 1942
- Keflavik Airport*, 25 October 1946 – 28 June 2006
- Under United States Navy Jurisdiction, 1 July 1961 – 28 June 2006
.* United States Air Forces units changed from host to tenant status on 1 July 1961, when the U.S. Navy gained jurisdiction; the installation was renamed U.S. Naval Station Keflavik; Keflavik Airport became one of its tenants.
Major USAF Commands
- Iceland Base Command, United States Army, February 1942
- European Theater of Operations, United States Army (ETOUSA), 10 June 1942
- Eastern Defense Command, United States Army, 30 July 1944
- Air Transport Command, 1 January 1946 – 7 April 1947
Returned to control of Icelandic Government on 7 April 1947; returned to joint Icelandic-USAF control, 23 May 1951.
- Joint Task Force No. 109, 7 May 1951
- Iceland Defense Force, 6 July 1951
- Military Air Transport Service*, 1 September 1951
- Air Defense Command, 1 July 1962
- Re-designated Aerospace Defense Command, 15 January 1968
- Tactical Air Command, 1 October 1979
- Air Combat Command, 1 June 1992
- United States Air Forces in Europe, 1 October 1992 – 28 June 2006
.*After 1 July 1961, the USAF MAJCOMs operated in a tenant status only.
Major USAF units assigned
.* Rotational TDY flights of aircraft from various squadrons of 52d Operations Group, Spangdahlem AB, Germany
.** Rotational TDY flights of aircraft from 48th Operations Group, RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom
Naval Air Station Keflavik was the host command for all U.S. defense activities in Iceland. The major commands stationed on the base were the USAF's 85th Group, Fleet Air Keflavik, the headquarters of the U.S.-provided Iceland Defense Force, Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station (NCTS) Keflavik, U.S. Naval Hospital Keflavik and NAVFAC Keflavik. The positions of Commander, Fleet Air Keflavik and Commander, Iceland Defence Force were held by the same U.S. Navy rear admiral. There were more than 25 different commands of various sizes and personnel from the US Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard in Iceland. Also present were representatives from Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark.
NASKEF was responsible for providing all support facilities, including the runways, housing, supply and recreational facilities. The primary mission of Naval Air Station Keflavik was to maintain and operate facilities and provide services and material to support operations of aviation activities and units of the operating forces of the Navy and other activities and units, as designated by the Chief of Naval Operations.
U.S. Navy use of the facility allowed the housing of rotational P-3 Orion squadrons, aircraft, flight crews, maintenance and administrative support personnel from their CONUS home bases for six-month deployments in support of antisubmarine warfare and maritime patrol missions until 2004. As a NATO mission, the U.S. Navy P-3s were frequently augmented by U.S. Navy Reserve P-3 squadrons and detachments of Canadian Forces CP-140 Aurora, Royal Netherlands Navy P-3, German Navy Breguet Atlantique and Royal Air Force Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR2 maritime patrol aircraft.
NAS Keflavik employed approximately 900 Icelandic civilians who worked with military personnel, providing the services necessary to operate the base. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the airfield was available for maritime patrol activities, air defense and for transiting aircraft between North America and Europe, in addition to supporting Iceland's international civilian aviation.
The NATO base did not have a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Icelandic Government and the base lacked the roadway entrance security gates characteristic of most military installations, having only Icelandic Customs officials instead. Icelandic nationals had unrestricted access to most of the base, especially since the civilian international airport terminal was also located on the base at the time. Icelandic nationals were only barred from actual security-restricted military facilities such as aircraft parking areas, squadron and hangar facilities and classified operations centers. During the height of the Cold War, this access situation created definitive operational security (OPSEC) concerns by U.S. and NATO officials due to potential espionage activities by Soviet operatives masquerading as Icelandic nationals. In addition, during this same time period, the former Soviet Union constructed one of their largest embassy facilities in the nearby capital, Reykjavik, which doubled as a diplomatic cover for intelligence collection activities against U.S. and NATO military forces. Access to the base was restricted to authorized military and civilian personnel after the construction of a new civilian passenger terminal on the opposite side of the airfield in the mid-1980s.
The base offered a wide variety of recreational services which included bowling, swimming, gymnasium, theater, social clubs, a Wendy's restaurant, and hobby centers. Other services included a Navy Exchange, commissary, bank, credit union, hospital, beauty shop, tour office and morale flights to the rest of Europe and the United States. Golfing was available in a nearby community.
On 15 March 2006, the U.S. Ambassador to Iceland announced that the United States had decided to substantially reduce the size of the Iceland Defense Force.
During a six-month transition to reduce the military presence in Iceland, most facilities closed and most of the service members departed, leaving behind a core team of active duty and Reserve personnel to finish the job.
By mid-July 2006, many of the military spouses and military active duty staff had transferred.
On 26 October the government of Iceland established the Keflavik Airport Development Corporation or Kadeco which was given the task of converting the base into civilian use.
In January 2010, Verne Holdings announced that it had received equity funding from the Wellcome Trust to build a data center at Keflavik. The data center will take advantage of the available geothermal power and free cooling to minimize its carbon footprint.
In September 2015, news media reported U.S. government officials expressed a desire to reopen aspects of the NATO base of Keflavik Naval Air Station, to cope with increasing Russian military activity around Iceland.
- Naval Radio Transmitter Facility Grindavik
- Iceland Defence Force
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- Archived NAS Keflavik website provided by the Internet Archive
- Reports on the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2006: 3489, 3486, 2999 (in Icelandic)
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- Map of the former site of the base on OpenStreetMap