Air Task Force-Iceland Concludes NATO Surveillance and Intercept Mission

Two Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornet fighters
Two Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornet fighters from 433 Tactical Fighter Squadron fly over Iceland on May 31, 2017 during an Operation REASSURANCE surveillance mission. Photo: Corporal Gary Calvé. Imagery Technician ATF-ICELAND

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By Air Task Force-Iceland Public Affairs

From May to June 2017, approximately 155 Canadian Armed Forces personnel, with six CF-18 fighters, deployed to Iceland. There they provided a continuous air surveillance and interception capability which could be launched immediately to meet and identify unknown airborne objects within, or approaching Iceland’s airspace.

Based at Keflavik Air Base, Air Task Force (ATF)-Iceland worked within the Operation REASSURANCE mission, conducting operations that were formerly performed under Operation IGNITION. The principle operational units were the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 433 Tactical Fighter Squadron from 3 Wing Bagotville, Quebec, and 21 Aerospace Control & Warning Squadron, from 22 Wing North Bay, Ontario. Supporting personnel came primarily from 10 units across Canada.

Despite the busy trans-Atlantic skies above the only NATO country without a standing military, non-NATO military aircraft rarely enter airspace in the vicinity of Iceland. However, Canadian fighters still conducted regular training flights and patrols. While considered routine tasks, operations still required coordination and control by a detachment of aerospace controllers. They worked at the NATO Control and Reporting Centre at Keflavik in order to ensure safety and adequate airspace management.

“Maintaining an accurate recognized air picture, passing that to higher headquarters, and controlling fast-moving aircraft in sometimes tight airspace—it’s a big responsibility,” said the aerospace control team’s senior officer, Major John Verran. To achieve a seamless integration with the NATO mission, the team communicated and coordinated closely with the NATO Combined Air Operations Centre in Uedem, Germany.
The short duration of the mission meant for a high operational tempo, and thus establishing the ATF at Keflavik took on added importance for the advance party. This was especially the case for the communications and information services (CIS) team as they set up satellite antennas, radios, phones and computers across multiple networks.

“Our small team worked hard to reach initial operating capability before the main body arrived,” said Captain Natasha Dargan, the ATF CIS officer. “So when Fighter and Control and Reporting Center personnel arrived, everyone was provided with the level of support they required to operate.”

For Lieutenant-Colonel William Mitchell, Commander of ATF-Iceland, this mission spoke to Canada’s air capability and its commitment to NATO. “This deployment was a success at the tactical level in addition to being an excellent demonstration of the agile and robust airpower that Canada can contribute to accomplish NATO missions,” he said.

The help of the Icelandic people also contributed to ATF-Iceland’s success. “ATF members had great support from the local community and our partners from the Icelandic Coast Guard throughout the operation,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Mitchell.

While Canada’s portion of the Icelandic surveillance and identification mission is over for now, another NATO nation will assume the role in September. Following the mission to Iceland, RCAF members from 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, will take part in Operation REASSURANCE missions in Romania beginning in September.

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