Icelandic Coast Guard supports NATO fighter deployment.
Nov 27, 2014
The Iceland Coast Guard is the service responsible for coastal defense and maritime and aeronautical search and rescue (SAR). The organisation also maintains the Iceland Air Defense System, which conducts ground surveillance of Iceland's air space.
Air space control works closely together with NATO nations which deploy their fighter aircraft to Iceland to meet the country’s requirement for peacetime preparedness. Especially the Coast Guard’s SAR units are busy during these times. With their ships and helicopters they are on stand-by in case a pilot ejects from a jet over the open sea in case of an emergency.
One important aspect for SAR is fast response; and this is why crews are regularly and frequently trained.
"Up to 200 times each year we are scrambled for emergency missions all over Iceland,” says Bjorn Brekkan Bjornsson, one of the Coast Guard helicopter pilots. The Coast Guard has three Super Puma helicopters each operated by a crew of five. The choppers are on a regularly 24/7 duty at their base located near the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik.
On a rescue mission, both pilots are in the cockpit flying the chopper and the navigator and technician turn into a rescue operator and hoist operator, respectively. Last, but not least the on-board doctor takes care of the recovered patient.
"So the Iceland Air Surveillance deployments of our Allies give us a task to do in addition to our normal duties,” Bjorn points out. "However until now we’ve had no to respond to a real emergency situation involving Allies.”
The SAR crew receives information about each planned flight activity from the NATO detachments located at Keflavik Air Base – currently the Czech Air Force detachment flying JAS-39 Gripen fighter aircraft. The flight plans are important because in an emergency the Super Puma takes from 15 minutes to one hour to get ready, always depending on the type of incident.
Although Iceland – being one of the oldest NATO members – does not have its own military, its Coast Guard staff is trained to NATO standards. This does not only refer to procedures for rescue missions. "Two months ago we trained together with a French and Danish frigate during a joint exercise,” Bjorn explains. "So we are not only able to standby for SAR duties, but also to participate actively with our assets in training with other NATO nations.”