Multinational exercise sustains international readiness

The 2008 Northern Viking exercise, which began with a ceremony here Sept. 1, aims to reinforce the resolve of the U.S. and its NATO partners in assisting in the defense of Iceland.

Approximately 150 Airmen from the U.S. Air Forces in Europe have joined forces with more than 300 U.S. Navy Seamen, as well as Icelandic, Canadian, Danish and Norwegian military members to exercise providing air defense, coastal defense, anti-terror and command and control capabilities in support of Iceland. The exercise has been in planning since January and is scheduled for completion Sept. 6.

"The exercise is a series of combined air operations, which include high value defense, offensive and defensive air operation scenarios," said Lt. Col. Michael King, 404th Air Expeditionary Group commander. "It's designed to enhance training and interoperability of NATO forces while increasing our knowledge of our allies' air and maritime capabilities. It also gives us a chance to increase our knowledge of the Icelandic region."

As the week progresses, the exercise will test the multinational team in different areas, increasing the difficulty and complexity with each new scenario, "resulting in the best training we can pack into a week," King said.

"Although this exercise isn't being graded, it's more of an evaluation on what we need to do next time or in the future so that [NATO forces] can work better together," said Navy Capt. Jeff Trussler, Northern Viking Exercise Director. "We're six nations, plus NATO, all coming together to exercise."

The deployed force includes four F-15 fighters from the 493rd Fighter Squadron at RAF Lakenheath and two KC-135 refueling aircraft from the 351st Air Refueling Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, England; one P-3 Orion from the U.S. Navy and another from Norway; two E-3 airborne warning and control system, or AWACS, aircraft from NATO; six CF-18 fighters from Canada; one frigate from Denmark and two search and rescue Super Pumas helicopters and a freighter ship from the Icelandic Coast Guard.

"This is about showing the Icelandic people that NATO is committed to assisting with their defense," King explained. "Although U.S. forces no longer have a permanent presence in Iceland, it is still in NATO's best interest to ensure Iceland's continued peace and security."

"The Northern Viking exercise is partly a manifestation of the continued commitment of the U.S. to the defense of Iceland in reflection of the 1951 defense agreement, which is still in effect between our two nations," said Fridrik Jonsson, head of strategic planning and exercises, Icelandic Defense Agency.

While Iceland has just over 300,000 citizens and roughly the same square mileage as the state of Colorado, it doesn't have any military forces. The country relies on its NATO allies for its defense, so it's not a surprise that Icelanders care about these exercises.

"[This is important] to us Icelanders ... to see that yes, the '51 defense agreement is more than mere words on paper, but there's actually some meat on the bones to this, to see that there is some continued commitment," an Icelandic on-looker said.

This is the second Northern Viking exercise held here since the closure of Naval Air Station Keflavik in 2006.

[Source: By Staff Sgt. Nathan Gallahan, 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs, Keflavik Airport, Iceland, 04sep08]

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