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US, NATO allies team up for Icelandic Air Surveillance exercise

Conducting missions with our NATO allies demonstrates our shared commitment to peace and better prepares us to respond to a range of potential security and humanitarian emergencies.

An F-16C Fighting Falcon lands at Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, July 25, 2019, in support of an Icelandic Air Surveillance mission. Conducting missions with NATO allies demonstrates shared commitment to peace and better prepares the U.S. to respond to a range of potential security and humanitarian emergencies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jovante Johnson)

F-16 Fighting Falcons and over 100 Airmen from the 480 Fighter Squadron, 52nd Fighter Wing, are in Iceland in support of NATO alliance commitments. The U.S. has been participating in this Iceland Air Surveillance mission since 2008.

An F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft arrives at Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, July 25, 2019, for exercise Icelandic Air Surveillance. More than 100 Airmen and F-16 Fighting Falcons from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, supported of NATO alliance commitments in Iceland. Other NATO allies have also conducted this mission in the past, including France, Denmark and Italy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jovante Johnson)


With alarms blaring and engines roaring, Airmen and pilots only use hand signals to communicate while pilots settle into their jets with little time before takeoff.

During exercise Icelandic Air Surveillance 2019, Airmen from the 480th Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, worked to establish air surveillance and interception coverage over Keflavik AB, Iceland, to maintain the integrity of the NATO airspace, July 29-Aug. 10.

“This mission is a commitment to enhancing regional security,” said Capt. Dominic Collins, 480th Fighter Squadron IAS 2019 mission commander. “The U.S. routinely trains with its European counterparts, and has been participating in this IAS mission since 2008. Conducting missions with our NATO allies demonstrates our shared commitment to peace and better prepares us to respond to a range of potential security and humanitarian emergencies we may face in the future.”

The primary focus of IAS 2019 was for pilots to do scramble alerts and get their flying certifications for intercept missions. Scramble alerts are used to test the amount of time it would take pilots to get from ground to air.

According to Collins, pilots spent many hours going over launch processes and preparing for takeoffs. Without this certification, the mission could not be completed.

“Certification means that we have proven that we can respond to an alert call within minutes,” Collins said. “We can quickly have air power in the sky to respond to real or potential threats. It’s a testament to the hard work and professionalism of our crew here in Iceland.”

It takes more than a pilot’s dedication and skill for an aircraft to make it into the air. A huge part of the process is the trust between the pilots and the Airmen who maintain the aircraft. Their job is to make sure pilots have all they need to succeed in the mission.

“It is important that the pilot and crew chiefs are on the same page,” said Airman 1st Class Delia O’Toole, 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. “It is important that I have confidence in my pilot and rely on him to do the checks necessary to help us both flourish. It is imperative that the pilot has faith in me and believes that I will do my job to the best of my ability, making sure he and his aircraft are safe.”

Takeoffs during IAS 2019 are different than a normal takeoff process at Spangdahlem AB. In a normal process, crew chiefs can communicate with the pilot through headsets. Both the pilot and crew chiefs have a longer time for aircraft checks and takeoffs. The whole process is much more relaxed.

“The process here in Iceland has you on edge from when the alarm goes off, notifying us of a scramble alert, until the pilot is off into the air,” O’Toole said. “Everything is moving at super speed, but it is important to stay calm and get it done and done the right way.”

Overall, IAS 2019 was a chance for Airmen to hone their skills and make the U.S. Air Force a stronger, more effective force for possible future situations.

“Missions such as IAS help Airmen maintain currency and training requirements essential to readiness standards,” Collins said. “Therefore I think this mission has nothing but good impact on all who are participating.

“We absolutely could not perform at the high level of readiness, or provide the level of air power without the unwavering support of the Icelandic Coast Guard and the Icelandic leadership who are hosting us,” Collins continued. “We work closely together every day and we are constantly learning and improving by using their extensive experience in northern latitude operations. The level of cooperation between us, NATO and Iceland really reflects the common understanding that maintaining NATO fighter aircraft at Keflavik (AB) helps keep Icelandic airspace safe and secure.”


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