Keflavik, Iceland --
Near the coast of southwest Iceland, miles from the snow-covered volcanoes that made media attention twice since early 2010, is the former Keflavik Naval Air Station - the location used for NATO's Northern Viking 2011 training exercise.
Approximately 450 NATO military members, including nearly 100 Airmen from the Madison-based 115th Fighter Wing, participate in NV11, a biennial training exercise for NATO members to practice air-space protection and interoperability between forces.
"This exercise allows a venue for NATO forces to come together, train as we would fight, operate within the European theater and this kind of training provides that continuity from year-to-year to sustain our combat capability," said Lt. Col. Brian Vaughn, exercise director for NV11.
Military members from Denmark, Italy and Norway are training with the United States. The Icelandic Coast Guard is aiding in the exercise as well. Of the nearly 450 participants, roughly 150 are from the U.S. - including active duty Airmen from the European command and the Air Force Reserve.
"This is a great opportunity for Euro Fighters to fly together with F-16s and learn from each other," said Maj. Eros Zaniboni, a pilot with the 36th Fighter Wing, Gioia Del Colle, Italy.
NV11 is the first time Euro Fighters from Gioia Del Colle have trained with U.S. and Norwegian F-16s. Likewise, 115th FW pilots have never flown against the Italian Euro Fighter 2000 Typhoon aircraft.
Two Norwegian DA-20 electronic warfare aircraft are performing electronic warfare operations with fighter jets, implementing communication and radar jamming during the training exercise. A KC-135 Stratotanker from the 459th Air Refueling Wing, Joint Air Base Andrews, Md., is also gaining joint-force training, having already refueled numerous U.S. and Norwegian F-16s.
"In a real world scenario, it is always going to be a coalition of partners," said Lt. Col. Ivan Rismo, detachment commander for the Norwegian forces. "The fact that we are able to operate with [our partners] and different fighters will allow us to be interoperable with these other units at any given time."
The pilots are not the only ones training together in Iceland.
"The controllers that talk to these pilots are shared between the Norwegians, the U.S. and Italy," said Colonel Rismo. "We are very happy to see this exercise come through and it is very interoperable in the way we are doing it."
Northern Viking is a U.S. led NATO and partner nation exercise based on a 1951 bilateral treaty between the Government of Iceland and the U.S. It validates the readiness status of the participating countries and their ability to respond quickly to conflict and emergency situations.
The importance of this type of training is still evident today, 60 years after the treaty.
"All the big conflicts we have seen have always consisted in an alliance whether in NATO or in a coalition," said Colonel Rismo.
To maintain and improve interoperability, NATO members take advantage of the opportunity to train at one location together.
Being together where we can all talk together in the same room and get a common picture of how we need to operate is paramount, said Colonel Rismo.
The 1st Combat Communications Squadron and 603rd Air Operations Center, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, from United States Air Force Europe also contributed to NV11.
Col. Erik Peterson, 115th FW operations group commander and fighter pilot, believes the training received through NV11 can be invaluable toward ensuring NATO partners adapt and plan accordingly to ensure mission success in real world engagements.
"The exercise is a prime example of how partner countries can act collectively to address common, natural challenges," Colonel Peterson said.
Editors note: For high resolution photos, video and interviews of Northern Viking 2011, visit the links below.
Operation Northern Viking Video
Operation Northern Viking B-roll
Facebook pics, Northern Viking folder