Military of Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

defences consist of the Icelandic Coast Guard
Icelandic Coast Guard
The Icelandic Coast Guard is the service responsible for Iceland's coastal defense and maritime and aeronautical search and rescue. Origins of the Icelandic Coast Guard can be traced to 1859, when the corvette Ørnen started patrolling Icelandic waters...

 which patrols Icelandic waters and airspace and other services such as the National Commissioner's National Security and Special Forces Units.
Iceland is however the only NATO member which maintains no standing army
Standing army
A standing army is a professional permanent army. It is composed of full-time career soldiers and is not disbanded during times of peace. It differs from army reserves, who are activated only during wars or natural disasters...

, 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
Icelandic Coast Guard
The Icelandic Coast Guard is the service responsible for Iceland's coastal defense and maritime and aeronautical search and rescue. Origins of the Icelandic Coast Guard can be traced to 1859, when the corvette Ørnen started patrolling Icelandic waters...

 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
Iceland Air Defence System
The Iceland Air Defence System was founded in 1987.It operates four radar complexes, a software and support facility as well as a command and report centre....

, 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
Víkingasveitin , officially Sérsveit ríkislögreglustjórans , is Iceland's elite counter-terrorism unit, specializing in various types of armed and unarmed infantry combat. It is in many ways modeled on the Norwegian Delta counter-terrorist unit with which it conducts many exercises, both in Norway...

, 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
Peacekeeping is an activity that aims to create the conditions for lasting peace. It is distinguished from both peacebuilding and peacemaking....

 force, that has been deployed internationally.

There is in addition, a treaty with the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 for military defenses and formerly maintained a military base, Naval Air Station Keflavik
Naval Air Station Keflavik
United States Naval Air Station Keflavik is a former NATO facility at Keflavík International Airport, Iceland. It is located on the Reykjanes peninsula on the south-west portion of the island...

, in Iceland until September 2006, when U.S. military forces withdrew. There are also agreements about military and other security operations with Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

, Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 and other NATO countries.

Iceland holds the annual NATO exercises entitled Northern Viking
Northern Viking
Northern Viking is an annual NATO exercise held in Iceland. The exercises were held biannually until 2006 when the frequency was increased.The purpose of the exercise is to test the capabilities of Iceland and her NATO allies, as well as increase the readiness of the forces involved and their...

. The most recent exercises were held in 2011, as well as the EOD
EOD may refer to:* Explosive Ordnance Disposal, the disposal of bombs* End Of Day, a financial markets term* Evolve Or Die, A Political Party, started in Montana, with the beliefs that humanity must move forward or die out...

 exercise "Northern Challenge".
In 1997 Iceland hosted its first Partnership for Peace
Partnership for Peace
Partnership for Peace is a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation program aimed at creating trust between NATO and other states in Europe and the former Soviet Union; 22 States are members...

 (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
The Stabilisation Force was a NATO-led multinational peacekeeping force in Bosnia and Herzegovina which was tasked with upholding the Dayton Agreement. It replaced the previous force IFOR...

International Security Assistance Force
The International Security Assistance Force is a NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan established by the United Nations Security Council on 20 December 2001 by Resolution 1386 as envisaged by the Bonn Agreement...


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
Reykjavík is the capital and largest city in Iceland.Its latitude at 64°08' N makes it the world's northernmost capital of a sovereign state. It is located in southwestern Iceland, on the southern shore of Faxaflói Bay...

 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.


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 institution known as leiðangr , leidang , leding, , ledung , expeditio or sometimes lething , was a public levy of free farmers typical for medieval Scandinavians. It was a form of conscription to organise coastal fleets for seasonal excursions and in defence of the realm...

. 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 warfare
Amphibious warfare is the use of naval firepower, logistics and strategy to project military power ashore. In previous eras it stood as the primary method of delivering troops to non-contiguous enemy-held terrain...

 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
Húnaflói is a large bay between Strandir and Skagaströnd in Iceland. It is about wide and long. The towns Blönduós and Skagaströnd are located on the bay's eastern side....

 known as Flóabardagi.

In the decades before the Napoleonic wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

, 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
Royal Dano-Norwegian Navy
The Royal Danish-Norwegian Navy or The Common Fleet also known simply as the Danish Navy was the naval force of the united kingdoms Denmark and Norway from 1509 to 12 April 1814. The fleet was established when the Royal Danish Navy and the Royal Norwegian Navy was combined by King Hans, when he...

 in the Battle of Copenhagen
Battle of Copenhagen (1807)
The Second Battle of Copenhagen was a British preemptive attack on Copenhagen, targeting the civilian population in order to seize the Dano-Norwegian fleet and in turn originate the term to Copenhagenize.-Background:Despite the defeat and loss of many ships in the first Battle of Copenhagen in...

, the amount of gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

 in Iceland was so low that it prohibited all efforts of the governor of Iceland, Count Trampe
Frederik Christoffer, greve af Trampe
Frederich Christopher, Count of Trampe was a Dano-Norwegian count and politician.-Family:His parents were Adam Frederich, Count of Trampe to Løgismose and Gertrud née Hoffmand de Poulson. He belonged to an originally Pomeranian noble family, whose noble status had been naturalised in Denmark and...

, to provide any resistance.
In 1855, the Icelandic Army was re-established by Andreas August von Kohl the sheriff in Vestmannaeyjar. In 1856, the king provided 180 rixdollar
Danish rigsdaler
The rigsdaler was the name of several currencies used in Denmark until 1873. The similarly named Reichsthaler, riksdaler and rijksdaalder were used in Germany and Austria-Hungary, Sweden and the Netherlands, respectively....

s 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.

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
Laugarvatn is a lake and small town in the south of Iceland. It is a bit smaller than the neighbouring Apavatn.It is situated at a popular touristical round-trip, the Golden Circle and acts as a popular staging post in the area. There is a small but popular hostel situated in the town...

. Hansen barely managed to train his 60 officers before the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 invaded Iceland
Invasion of Iceland
The invasion of Iceland, codenamed Operation Fork, was a British military operation conducted by the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and a small Canadian task force during World War II....

 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.

Coast Guard

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 (370.4 km) respectively. This led to Iceland's conflict with the United Kingdom, known as the "Cod War
Cod War
The Cod Wars, also called the Icelandic Cod Wars , were a series of confrontations in the 1950s and 1970s between the United Kingdom and Iceland regarding fishing rights in the North Atlantic....

s". 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

The Iceland Air Defence System or Íslenska Loftvarnarkerfið was founded in 1987, and operates four radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 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
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

 to patrol the country's airspace as part of the Icelandic Air Policing
Icelandic Air Policing
Icelandic Air Policing is a NATO operation conducted to patrol Iceland's airspace. As Iceland does not have an air force, it requested that its NATO allies periodically deploy fighter aircraft to Keflavik Air Base to provide protection of its airspace in 2006...


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
Norwegian Army
Norway achieved full independence in 1905, and in the first century of its short life has contributed to two major conflicts, the Cold War and the War on Terror. The Norwegian Army currently operates in the north of Norway and in Afghanistan as well as in Eastern Europe. The Army is the oldest of...

, 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
Suicide attack
A suicide attack is a type of attack in which the attacker expects or intends to die in the process.- Historical :...

 in Kabul
Kabul , spelt Caubul in some classic literatures, is the capital and largest city of Afghanistan. It is also the capital of the Kabul Province, located in the eastern section of Afghanistan...

. The incident led to tough questioning of the group's commander, Colonel
Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...

 Halli Sigurðsson, focusing on his conduct . He was later replaced by Colonel Lárus Atlason.

ICRU missions

The ICRU has or is operating in:
  • Military missions:

} within ISAF
International Security Assistance Force
The International Security Assistance Force is a NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan established by the United Nations Security Council on 20 December 2001 by Resolution 1386 as envisaged by the Bonn Agreement...

} within NTM-1 (and the Coast Guard within Dancon/Irak
Dancon/Irak is short for Danish Contingent/Irak, and was the designated name for the Danish ground contingent deployed to Iraq from June 2003 to July 2007.-History:...

}/ Republic of Kosovo within KFOR
  • Civilian missions:

} within EUPM
} within MACC-SL
} within SLMM

List of small-arms used by Icelandic forces

/ Norway Heckler & Koch G3/AG-3
Heckler & Koch G3
The G3 is a 7.62mm battle rifle developed in the 1950s by the German armament manufacturer Heckler & Koch GmbH in collaboration with the Spanish state-owned design and development agency CETME ....

 battle rifle Heckler & Koch MP5
Heckler & Koch MP5
The Heckler & Koch MP5 is a 9mm submachine gun of German design, developed in the 1960s by a team of engineers from the German small arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch GmbH of Oberndorf am Neckar....

 submachine gun Heckler & Koch G36
Heckler & Koch G36
The Heckler & Koch G36 is a 5.56×45mm assault rifle, designed in the early 1990s by Heckler & Koch in Germany as a replacement for the 7.62mm G3 battle rifle. It was accepted into service with the Bundeswehr in 1997, replacing the G3...

 Assault rifle
Assault rifle
An assault rifle is a selective fire rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine. Assault rifles are the standard infantry weapons in most modern armies...

 Glock 17 pistol Steyr SSG 69
Steyr SSG 69
The SSG 69 is a bolt-action sniper rifle produced by Steyr Mannlicher and serves as the standard sniper rifle for the Austrian Army....

 sniper rifle Blaser R93
Blaser 93 Tactical
The Blaser LRS 2 and Blaser Tactical 2 are German sniper rifles, used by German and Dutch police forces as well as the Australian military and special police units. The rifles are manufactured by the German fire arms manufacturer Blaser. The LRS 2 and Tactical 2 rifles are straight-pull bolt-action...

-7.62×51 NATO sniper rifle Mossberg 500
Mossberg 500
Mossberg 500 is a series of shotguns manufactured by O.F. Mossberg & Sons. The 500 series comprises widely varying models of hammerless, pump action repeaters, all of which share the same basic receiver and action, but differ in bore size, barrel length, choke options, magazine capacity, and...

 shotgun Rheinmetall MG3
Rheinmetall MG3
The MG3 is a German general-purpose machine gun chambered for the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge. The weapon's design is derived from the World War II era MG 42 universal machine gun that fired the 7.92x57mm Mauser round....

 medium machine gun Browning M2 machine gun M14 rifle
M14 rifle
The M14 rifle, formally the United States Rifle, 7.62 mm, M14, is an American selective fire automatic rifle firing 7.62x51mm NATO  ammunition. It was the standard issue U.S. rifle from 1959 to 1970. The M14 was used for U.S...

 Diemaco C8 assault rifle


  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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