Naval Air Station Keflavik - History - United States Air Force Use

United States Air Force Use

See also: 57th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron; Air Forces Iceland

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.

Iceland's charter membership in NATO in 1949 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 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 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Also Air Force component of NATO Iceland Defense Force.

Air Defense Command (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 the USAF Military Air Transport Service 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 67 Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (ARRS) 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 though 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 Faeroe 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 Air Defense Command until 1979 and under Tactical Air Command 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 (35 WG) 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 as the 35th Fighter Wing, where it currently operates. 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 October 1, 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 one-hour, formal 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.

Read more about this topic:  Naval Air Station Keflavik, History

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