First US Navy Submarine Service Stop in Icelandic Waters

USS San Juan (SSN 751) alongside an Icelandic Coast Guard ship

The American nuclear-powered submarine USS San Juan visited Iceland yesterday for a brief service stop in the waters outside of Garðskagi, Southwest Iceland. As per a US Navy press release, San Juan does not carry nuclear weapons. Foreign Minister Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörd Gylfadóttir announced on April 18 that nuclear-powered submarines of the US Navy would be authorised to make a brief service visit in Iceland to receive supplies and exchange crew members.

This decision by the Minister for Foreign Affairs is part of the Icelandic government’s policy to support increased monitoring and response capacity of Allied countries in the North Atlantic. In recent years, the Icelandic and US governments have increased cooperation to strengthen situational awareness and readiness in the North Atlantic.

A founding member of NATO, Iceland has hosted the organisation’s exercises in recent years. In 2019, Iceland upped its defence budget by 37%. Last year, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir announced another increase to the budget in response to the war in Ukraine, with a special emphasis on cyber security. Katrín also announced an increase in Iceland’s NATO funding at the time.

US Navy Establishes Temporary Operations Centre in Keflavík

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60), front, and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, USS Farragut (DDG 99), left, USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98), right, and USS Lassen (DDG 82), back, steam in formation during a photo exercise, Sept. 16, 2019. Normandy is operating in the Atlantic in support of naval operations to maintain maritime stability and security in order to ensure access, deter aggression and defend U.S., allied and partner interests.

About 30 members of the 2nd fleet of the US Navy are currently performing Navy exercises in and around Iceland, practising the setup and operation of an expeditionary Maritime Operations Centre, which has been temporarily established in Keflavík. According to a tweet from the US Navy, the operations centre will “provide the U.S. Naval Forces Europe commander an additional ability to lead forces from a forward-operating location.”

The expeditionary MOC, made up of about 30 members of US 2nd Fleet staff, has the ability to command and control forces, provide basic indicators and warnings for situational awareness, and issue orders, while maintaining reach-back capability to C2F’s headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, according to a Navy press release.

“Iceland is a key ally, and its strategic location in the North Atlantic provides a perfect opportunity to test out our expeditionary MOC for the first time,” said Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet. “Operating out of Iceland reinforces our partnership while allowing us to practice operating in an expeditionary manner and test our ability to surge forward.” The Operations Centre has been in contact with US Navy vessels, located in the North Atlantic on conventional tasks. The USS Normandy, pictured above, is operating in the Atlantic “in support of naval operations to maintain maritime stability and security in order to ensure access, deter aggression and defend U.S., allied and partner interests.”

“Successful operations in the Arctic require practice, and we will take the lessons learned from this deployment to further refine the expeditionary MOC concept for future operations in the North Atlantic and Arctic regions,” said Capt. Chris Slattery, director of the expeditionary MOC.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs told DV that the group arrived in early September and will leave in early October. All costs stemming from the US Navy’s stay in Iceland are paid by the US Government.

The press release stresses that the expeditionary MOC concept is temporary in nature, further stating that “While the C2F expeditionary MOC is currently operating out of Iceland, there is no predetermined or permanent operating location in the European theater.”

Prime Minister Turns Down US Naval Invitation

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir turned down an invitation to tour the USS Harry S. Truman, an aircraft carrier in the service of the US Navy, RÚV reports.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson and several other members of the Icelandic parliament’s NATO committee did accept the invitation, along with the Foreign Ministry’s defense office. MPs from both the governing coalition and the opposition also visited the carrier.

Per the platform of the Left-Green party to which Katrín belongs, Iceland should resign from NATO and stop allowing military training exercises to take place in the country. Earlier this week, the Foreign Ministry announced that several hundred NATO soldiers would be undertaking military maneuvers in Iceland and Norway in October. This then prompted Katrín to clarify that while it may not be what she or her party wants, the maneuvers are still in accordance with Iceland’s national security policy and part of its participation in NATO.