Military of Iceland

Military of Iceland
Military of Iceland
Flag of Iceland (state).svg
Service branches Icelandic Coast Guard
Iceland Air Defence System
Iceland Crisis Response Unit
Minister for Foreign Affairs Össur Skarphéðinsson
CEO of the Icelandic Coast Guard R.adm Georg Lárusson
Available for
military service
74,896, age 16-49
Fit for
military service
62,576 males, age 16-49,
61,159 females, age 16-49
Reaching military
age annually
2,369 males,
2,349 females
Active personnel 270 (2011)
Percent of GDP 0.4% of GDP (2008)
Related articles
History Military history of Iceland
Icelandic Flagship ICGV Þór, 27.10.2011, Reykyavik

Icelands defences consist of the Icelandic Coast Guard which patrols Icelandic waters and airspace and other services such as the National Commissioner's National Security and Special Forces Units.[1][2][3][4] Iceland is however the only NATO member which maintains no standing army, although there is no legal impediment to forming one and Icelandic services perform the operations fellow NATO allies relegate to their standing armies.

The Coast Guard consists of three ships and four aircraft and armed with small arms, naval artillery, and Air Defense weaponry. The Coast Guard also maintains the Icelandic Air Defense System, formerly part of the disestablished Defence Agency, which conducts ground surveillance of Iceland's air space.

Units subordinated to the National Commissioner also take part in Iceland's defences. Foremost of these are the National Security Unit, which handles intelligence operations and the special unit Víkingasveitin, a highly trained and equipped counter terrorism unit which is part of the National Police force.

Additionally there is a Crisis Response Unit (ICRU), operated by the Ministry for Foreign affairs, which is a small armed peacekeeping force, that has been deployed internationally.

There is in addition, a treaty with the United States for military defenses and formerly maintained a military base, Naval Air Station Keflavik, in Iceland until September 2006, when U.S. military forces withdrew. There are also agreements about military and other security operations with Norway,[5][6] Denmark[7][8][9] and other NATO countries.

Iceland holds the annual NATO exercises entitled Northern Viking. The most recent exercises were held in 2011,[10] as well as the EOD exercise "Northern Challenge". In 1997 Iceland hosted its first Partnership for Peace (PfP) exercise, "Cooperative Safeguard", which is the only multilateral PfP exercise so far in which Russia has participated. Another major PfP exercise was hosted in 2000. Iceland has also contributed ICRU peacekeepers to SFOR, KFOR and ISAF.

The government of Iceland contributes financially to NATO's international overhead costs and recently has taken a more active role in NATO deliberations and planning. Iceland hosted the NATO Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Reykjavík in June 1987. Additionally Norway has agreed to grant Icelandic citizens the same eligibility as Norwegian citizens for military education in Norway and to serve as professional soldiers in the Norwegian Defence forces.[11]



An Icelandic Coast Guard EOD specialist in Iraq
An illustration of Hákon, King of Norway, and his son Magnus, from Flateyjarbók

In the period from the settlement of Iceland, in the 870s, until it became part of the realm of the Norwegian King, military defences of Iceland consisted of multiple chieftains (Goðar) and their free followers (þingmenn, bændur or liðsmenn) organised as per standard Nordic military doctrine of the time in expeditionary armies such as the leiðangr. The armies being divided into units by the quality of the warriors and by birth. At the end of this period the number of chieftains had diminished and their power had grown to the detriment of their followers. This resulted in a long and bloody civil war known as Sturlungaöld. The average battle consisted of little less than 1000 men.

Amphibious operations were important part of warfare in Iceland in this time, especially in the Westfjords, but large naval engagements were not common. The largest of which was an engagement of a few dozen ships in Húnaflói known as Flóabardagi.

In the decades before the Napoleonic wars, the few hundred militia-men in the southwest of Iceland were mostly equipped with rusty and mostly obsolete medieval weaponry, including 16th century halberds. When English raiders arrived in 1808, after sinking or capturing most of the Danish-Norwegian Navy in the Battle of Copenhagen, the amount of gunpowder in Iceland was so low that it prohibited all efforts of the governor of Iceland, Count Trampe, to provide any resistance.

Officers of the defence force in a trench on Vaðlaheiði in 1940.

In 1855, the Icelandic Army was re-established by Andreas August von Kohl the sheriff in Vestmannaeyjar. In 1856, the king provided 180 rixdollars to buy guns, and a further 200 rixdollars the following year. The sheriff became the Captain of the new army, which become known as Herfylkingin, "The Battalion." In 1860 von Kohl died, and Pétur Bjarnasen took over the command. Nine years later Bjarnasen died before appointing a successor, and the army fell into disarray.

Agnar Kofoed Hansen training his officers in the arts of war in 1940.

In 1918 Iceland regained sovereignty as a separate Kingdom ruled by the Danish king. Iceland established a Coast Guard shortly after, but financial difficulties make establishing a standing army impossible. The government hoped that a permanent neutrality would shield the country from invasions. But at the onset of Second World War, the government, being nervous, decided to expand the capabilities of the Icelandic National Police (Ríkislögreglan) and its reserves into a military unit. Chief Commissioner of Police Agnar Kofoed Hansen had been trained in the Danish Army and he moved to train his officers. Weapons and uniforms were acquired, and they practiced rifleshooting and military tactics near Laugarvatn. Hansen barely managed to train his 60 officers before the United Kingdom invaded Iceland on 10 May 1940. The next step in this army building move was to train the 300 strong reserve forces, but the invasion effectively stopped it.

FIAV 001000.svg Icelandic Army Regimental Standard of the 19th century Army.

Coast Guard

Icelandic Coast Guard vessels. Týr in the center.

Shortly after Iceland reclaiming its sovereignty in 1918, the Icelandic Coast Guard was founded. Its first vessel, a former Danish research vessel, was armed with a 57 mm cannon. The Coast Guard is responsible for protecting Iceland's sovereignty and vital interests such as the most valuable natural resource—its fishing areas—as well as provide security, search, and rescue services to Iceland's fishing fleet. In 1952, 1958, 1972, and 1975, the government expanded Iceland's exclusive economic zone to 4, 12, 50 and 200 nautical miles (370 km) respectively. This led to Iceland's conflict with the United Kingdom, known as the "Cod Wars". The Icelandic Coast Guard and the Royal Navy confronted each other on several occasions during these years. Although few rounds were fired, there were many intense moments between the two nations. Today the Coast Guard remains Iceland's premier fighting force equipped with armed patrol vessels and aircraft and partaking in peacekeeping operations in foreign lands.

Iceland Air Defence System

Structure of the Icelandic Forces

The Iceland Air Defence System or Íslenska Loftvarnarkerfið was founded in 1987, and operates four radar complexes, a software and support facility and a command and report centre. It is a part of the Coast Guard.

Iceland's NATO allies also regularly deploy fighter aircraft to patrol the country's airspace as part of the Icelandic Air Policing mission.[12]

Icelandic Crisis Response Unit

The Icelandic Crisis Response Unit (ICRU) (or Íslenska friðargæslan or "The Icelandic Peacekeeping Guard") is an expeditionary peacekeeping force maintained by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. It is manned by various personnel from Iceland's other services, armed or not, including the National Police, Coast Guard, Emergency Services and Health-care system. Because of the military nature of most of the ICRU's assignments, all of its members receive basic infantry combat training. This training has often been conducted by the Norwegian Army, but the Coast Guard and the Special forces are also assigned to train the ICRU.

Most of the ICRU's camouflage and weaponry is procured from abroad, with some indigenous development. Some arms and uniforms are also borrowed from the Norwegian Defence Forces.

The formation and employment of the unit has met controversy in Iceland, especially by people to the left on the political scale. In October 2004 three ICRU soldiers were wounded in a suicide bombing in Kabul. The incident led to tough questioning of the group's commander, Colonel Halli Sigurðsson, focusing on his conduct[citation needed]. He was later replaced by Colonel Lárus Atlason.

ICRU missions

The ICRU has or is operating in:

List of small-arms used by Icelandic forces


  1. ^ Varnarmálastofnun Íslands.
  2. ^ Lög um breytingu á varnarmálalögum, nr. 34/2008.
  3. ^ Varnarmálalög.
  4. ^ Landhelgisgæsla Íslands Hlutverk.
  5. ^ A press release from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  6. ^ An English translation of the Norwegian-Icelandic MoU at the website of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  7. ^ Norway Post: Norway and Iceland to sign defence agreement
  8. ^ Aftenposten: Norway to help defend Iceland
  9. ^ Danmarks Radio
  10. ^ A press release from the Icelandic Coast Guard.
  11. ^ Norwegian Defence Forces: Alle gode ting er tre
  12. ^ "Air Policing". NATO Air Command Operations. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  1. Birgir Loftsson, Hernaðarsaga Íslands : 1170-1581, Pjaxi. Reykjavík. 2006..
  2. Þór Whitehead, The Ally who came in from the cold : a survey of Icelandic Foreign Policy 1946-1956, Centre for International Studies. University of Iceland Press. Reykjavík. 1998.
  3. Icelandic Coast Guard.
  4. Icelandic National Police.
  5. Iceland Air Defence System.
  6. Ministry of Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs.
  7. Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

See also


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