Viewing cable 07REYKJAVIK247, ICELAND: EXERCISE NORTHERN VIKING,
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|07REYKJAVIK247||2007-08-27 17:05||2011-01-13 05:05||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Reykjavik|
VZCZCXYZ0000 RR RUEHWEB DE RUEHRK #0247/01 2391738 ZNY CCCCC ZZH R 271738Z AUG 07 FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3416 INFO RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE 0057 RHMFISS/HQ USAFE RAMSTEIN AB GE RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 0032
C O N F I D E N T I A L REYKJAVIK 000247 SIPDIS SIPDIS USAFE FOR GENERAL HOBBINS OSD FOR ASD/RA HALL E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/09/2017 TAGS: MOPS PREL MARR PGOV RU IC SUBJECT: ICELAND: EXERCISE NORTHERN VIKING, RUSSIAN BOMBER FLIGHTS PUT SPOTLIGHT ON DEFENSE 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. NORTHERN VIKING 2007 -------------------- ¶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 SIPDIS (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. Comment ------- ¶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 capability. van Voorst