Luftwaffe takes over protection of Icelandic airspace

A three week Icelandic air space patrol mission by the German Luftwaffe begins today while discussion continues about a possible Nordic takeover.

Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Össur Skarphéðinsson, says that air cover has been arranged for the country for the next two years. Iceland has no military of its own. There are serious discussions in progress about whether the Nordic countries should take over Iceland’s air defence from NATO.

The US Air Force last took responsibility for Icelandic air space in August and now the Germans have taken over.

There are around 150 German air force personnel taking part in the Icelandic operation and they have brought four F4 fighters with them; as well as some 40 shipping containers and a variety of motor vehicles. Exercises will take place this week around Akureyri and Egilsstaðir.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs told RÚV that the German patrols and exercises are standard in nature and that the Americans will come in the summer and be followed by the Portuguese air force later in the year. Regular air patrols have been organised for the next two years and will be similar in nature to patrols over the Baltic nations and form part of the wider NATO preparedness mission over European airspace.

Despite the patrol of Icelandic airspace having gone very well since the permanent American military presence ended in 2006, there are now discussions under way that could see big changes. The former Norwegian foreign minister, Thorvald Stoltenberg, three years ago floated the idea of the Nordic countries co-operatively taking over the defence of Icelandic airspace. The idea is being seriously discussed, but it all hinges on decisions made in Sweden and Finland, which are not NATO countries.

Össur says he is positive about the idea, which has been discussed many times at Nordic foreign ministers’ meetings — adding that he sees building support for the idea in Sweden and Finland. Despite this, the foreign ministers have never made a joint decision or statement on the matter to date, as it would be such a big step for all nations involved.

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