In January and February of 2024, four F-35 Lightning II fighters of the Royal Norwegian Air Force will be deployed to Keflavik air force base to execute the first tour of duty within this year´s Iceland Air Policing operation.
Although it will be already the fourth Norwegian deployment of the 5th generation fighters to Iceland, for the first time it will be executed by the F-35 Lighting II aircraft assigned to No. 331 Squadron of the RNoAF. The Norwegian detachment is expected to consist of approximately 100 military personnel – pilots, administrative, technical, guard and operational support staff from the 131st and 132nd Air Wing of the RNoAF.
´Our participation in Iceland Air Policing shows our willingness to support NATO and our increased ability to solve missions with combat aircraft both domestically and abroad´, said Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth ´Chain´ Vika, Commander of the 331st Squadron.
The idea of Iceland Air Policing origins from 2006, when the country for the first time asked NATO to deploy the Alliance fighter aircraft there, in order to provide protection of the Icelandic airspace. The reason was that Iceland has no standing army and its defence forces includes only coast guard and special forces units. Until 2006, the country´s airspace was protected by the Icelandic Defense Force (IDF) – a regular deployment of the United States Armed Forces to Iceland, nevertheless on 15th March of 2006, the US Department of Defence decided about withdrawal of the IDF by the end of the year.
The first NATO fighter aircraft deployment within the new Icelandic Air Policing operation took place in May to June of 2008 and was executed by the French Air Force. The French contingent consisted of four Mirage 2000 fighters and approximately 110 military personnel.
The first Norwegian deployment to Iceland was reported in mid-2009 and was executed by F-16AM Fighting Falcon fighters of the 331st and 338th Squadrons.
In September and October of 2018, the Italian Air Force performed the first air policing operation in Iceland with the F-35 Lightning II 5th generation fighters. The six aircraft then deployed to Iceland were from the 13th Squadron, 32nd Air Wing (32° Stormo ´Cap. Pil. Armando Boetto´).
For the first time, the RNoAF F-35s were deployed to Iceland in February to March 2020, although at the time Norway was still not fully operative with their new fighters.
Similarly to previous years, the main task of the Iceland Air Policing 2024 operation will be performing Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) duties. They include monitoring the country’s airspace, as well as overseeing all traffic in and near the airspace.
In case of detecting any unknown aircraft in the vicinity of the Icelandic airspace, the fighters are alerted and – guided by Control and Reporting Centre personnel – send to locate the unknown aircraft, identifies and documents them. If necessary, the QRA aircraft can escort the violating aircraft out of the NATO area or to designated airfields. In addition, they can transfer the authority over the QRA aircraft to civil authorities, should a civil hijacking apply.
The RNoAF aircraft will stay in Keflavik for about four weeks.
Cover photo: F-35 Lightning II of the RNoAF while taxiing in Ørland air base (photo: Ole Andreas Vekve / Forsvaret, cropped). Royal Norwegian Ministry of Defence press materials were used.