Cablegate: Iceland: Exercise Northern Viking,


DE RUEHRK #0247/01 2391738
R 271738Z AUG 07





E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/09/2017

Ref: Reykjavik 233

Classified By: Amb. Carol van Voorst for reasons
1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: Exercise NORTHERN VIKING
2007, held August 14-15, was the first defense
exercise conducted under our commitments set out
in the bilateral Joint Understanding of October
2006. The successful exercise brought new
positive attention to the U.S. defense
commitment to Iceland as well as the future of
the Iceland Air Defense System (IADS) radars.
In meetings with USAFE Commander General Hobbins
and Assistant Secretary of Defense Hall, both
Prime Minister Haarde and Foreign Minister
Gisladottir expressed their interest in
continued bilateral engagement on defense,
though some tension within the governing
coalition on security issues was apparent.
Adding to the focus on defense was the
appearance on August 17 of six Russian strategic
bomber aircraft in the airspace around Iceland,
part of the resumption of strategic flights
announced by Russian President Putin. Wags and
serious commentators alike have opined that the
Russian flights likely did more to ensure the
long-term future of IADS than the system's
proponents ever could have. End Summary.

2. (U) In the U.S.-Iceland Joint Understanding
signed in October 2006, both countries pledged
to hold at least one bilateral
and/or multilateral exercise annually. NORTHERN
VIKING 2007 (NV07), the first such exercise, was
conducted on August 14-15 at Keflavik Airport,
using facilities located on the former site of
U.S. Naval Air Station Keflavik (NASKEF). NV07
consisted of two non-integrated events running
simultaneously: an air defense exercise and an
anti-terror exercise. The purpose of this
multinational training event was to exercise the
air defense, anti-terror, and command and
control capabilities of NATO forces deploying to
Iceland. Participation included three USAF F-
15C fighters and two USAF KC-135 refueling
aircraft, two Norwegian F-16 fighters and one
Norwegian P-3 aircraft, two NATO AWACS aircraft,
the Danish Frigate "Triton" with an embarked
search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter), SAR
helicopter assets from the Icelandic Coast
Guard, special police forces from Iceland and
special forces personnel from Norway, Denmark,
Sweden and Latvia. Representatives from the UK,
NATO CAOC-1, NATO CAOC-3, and the Norwegian
Joint AOC observed the exercise. Additionally,
USAFE Commander General Hobbins and Assistant
Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Hall

(lead USG negotiator in defense talks with
Iceland in 2006) came to observe the event.

3. (SBU) Participants' and planners' comments
to Post indicate that NV07 met its objectives
completely, with exceptional weather allowing
for maximal training opportunities for the
participating aircrews. The Government of
Iceland also provided outstanding logistical
support for the exercise, including jet fuel for
U.S. aircraft, messing and berthing for all
participants, and smaller perks such as internet
access and rental car transportation. Press
coverage of NV07 was widespread and
overwhelmingly favorable, though the Prime
Minister's Foreign Affairs Advisor commented to
Ambassador that he was disappointed with the
Icelandic press corps' very evident low level of
knowledge of defense issues.

PM, FM ask for help in selling IADS

4. (C) In the week leading up to NV07, new
Foreign Minister Ingibjorg Gisladottir had been

a study in ambivalence, first indicating that
she would be on leave during the exercise, then
relenting and stating she would attend the
exercise's media events. In the end, she chose
to meet with COMUSAFE and Ambassador on the
first morning of NV07, and forgoing the public
events. (Comment: Perhaps a concession to the
pacifist wing of her party, which would be
unsettled to see their party chair among
uniforms and fighter jets. End comment.) In
her meeting with General Hobbins, the FM, while
appreciative of U.S. participation in the
exercise and U.S.-Iceland cooperation on air
policing at NATO, pressed for Gen. Hobbins'
views on the long-term future of the Iceland Air
Defense System (IADS). (Note: The USG ceased
funding for IADS on August 15, 2007. The MFA-
controlled Iceland Radar Agency now bears
responsibility for operating the system, which
was built with NATO and U.S. funds. End note.)

5. (C) Gisladottir made clear her concern that
after two weeks of skeptical, poorly-informed
press articles on IADS, the public perception
was of an obsolete, overpriced system that the
U.S. no longer wanted. NATO Military Committee
and North Atlantic Council decisions that IADS
is necessary for Icelandic and Alliance air
defense were helpful, she noted, but what are
the real benefits of keeping the system
operating? COMUSAFE observed that IADS is
necessary to give NATO a complete airspace
picture; it also improves Icelandic SAR
capability, and adds stability to the transit of
commercial air traffic.

6. (C) Prime Minister Geir Haarde sounded
similar notes in meeting with COMUSAFE and ASD
Hall later that day, while at the same time
expressing greater confidence that IADS would
form an integral part of Iceland's defense
policy and relationship with NATO. Haarde
pressed for the U.S. to work with Iceland to
hold the NORTHERN VIKING exercise annually,
though taking on board General Hobbins' point
that the exercise does not necessarily need to
include an air force component in every
iteration. Haarde agreed that the exercise was
a useful demonstration of IADS-AWACS
integration, and also applauded the NAC approval
of an air policing plan for Iceland. He said
the government planned to continue talks on
defense and security agreements with neighbors,
and pointed to the recent MOU with Norway (which
he happily noted was an active NV07
participant). Next on the agenda in this regard
are Canada and the UK.

7. (C) Noting that it was nearly a year since
the NASKEF closure, Haarde commented that no one
could have foreseen how well things have turned
out. Progress in developing portions of the
base into student housing and a university-level
education and research center is impressive.
ASD Hall agreed that the transition had gone
very well and complimented the Prime Minister on
his government's management of the issue.
Looking beyond Iceland's borders, PM Haarde
asked COMUSAFE what he thought of recent
increases in Russian air activity such as the
August bomber sorties near Guam and activity in
the North Atlantic earlier this year. General
Hobbins noted that there is a strong political
component to the Russians' moves in this regard.

The Russians come back
8. (C) PM Haarde's question took on new meaning
several days later, as six Russian strategic
bomber aircraft participating in long range
operations on August 17 entered the Military Air
Defense Identification Zone (MADIZ) surrounding
Iceland. The Icelandic Government was in
contact with counterpart units in Norway and the
UK throughout the incident and was able to track

the aircraft through IADS. Beginning at 0200
GMT, the first (two Tu-160 Blackjacks) and
second sorties (two Tu-95 Bears) both passed
through the MADIZ to the east of Iceland, while
the third sortie (also of two Bears)
circumnavigated Iceland, at one point coming
within 9 nautical miles of Keflavik. While the
incident was occurring, MFA and Radar Agency
representatives asked Post's Assistant to the
Defense Attache (A/DATT) to come to the IADS
Command and Reporting Center, where A/DATT
observed the third sortie's flight as well as
its intercept by British and Norwegian
fighters. A near-gleeful Radar Agency
representative turned to A/DATT at one point and
said, "See how important this system is?"

9. (C) Both cynical and serious observers have
made similar points in recent days, as the
consensus has developed that Russian President
Putin's announcement of resumed strategic bomber
flights could not have come at a better time for
a government looking to justify spending at
least $12.5 million a year to operate IADS ,
plus significant annual expenditures for
military exercises. While downplaying the
significance of the Russian flights by saying
they would have no impact on Russian-Icelandic
relations, FM Gisladottir did take the
opportunity to note to the press that IADS had
been necessary to track the planes in order to
ensure civil aviation safety over Iceland.

10. (C) NV07 was of key importance to
demonstrate that the U.S. takes the commitments
we made in 2006 seriously: we and the rest of
NATO are ready and able to defend Iceland
without permanently basing forces here.
However, the exercise also cast further light
on the Foreign Minister's struggle to balance
her party's standoffish position on military
matters with the obligations of her new job
which includes managing defense issues.

11. (C) While Russian air activity may have
been a godsend for those wishing to ensure IADS'
future, Post also expects an uptick in "we told
you so" comments from those who believed the
NASKEF closure jeopardized Iceland's security.
In this event, swift coordination with NATO
counterparts in Norway and the UK ensured that
the Icelandic government was never in the dark,
and make a strong case for NATO's ability to
respond expeditiously on Iceland's behalf. We
will continue to urge Iceland to build its
information and intelligence-sharing networks
within NATO in order to ensure NATO retains this

van Voorst

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