Keflavik, Iceland, Aug 24 (CTK special correspondent) – The Czech Gripen fighter jets will end their mission to protect the Icelandic airspace on Tuesday, but they will return to Iceland for another mission late next year, Czech Defence Minister Martin Stropnicky said at Keflavik Monday.
He recalled that Iceland is a NATO country but it does not have its own military.
“For us, it is also a training and testing of pilots in a different environment, in different conditions over the sea,” Stropnicky said.
The Gripens do not patrol only the land, but also a strip of sea around it. As Russian activities were rather alarming earlier this year, the patrolling is necessary, he said, referring to violations of airspace and territorial waters.
Stropnicky arrived in Iceland to visit the Czech soldiers Monday and he will leave tomorrow.
He said the next mission in Iceland should take place in the third quarter of 2016 and last more or less the same time as the nearly accomplished mission.
During this mission lasting almost one month, the Gripens were not deployed in action.
However, the pilots made more than 70 training flights spending over 140 hours in the air, the Gripen unit’s spokesman Tomas Maruscak said.
Four Gripens have been guarding Iceland’s airspace since July 29. The fifth plane is a reserve one.
The Czech pilots replaced Canadian fighters who were relocated to a NATO operation against Islamic State.
Stropnicky flew to Iceland aboard a government plane Monday. Two Gripens welcomed the airbus after it crossed the border of the Icelandic airspace and they accompanied it to the air base in Keflavik.
“Since our soldiers’ mission is going to end, I primarily want to thank them for their work. They did not have much time for the preparation of the mission at NATO’s request before their departure. Despite that, they managed to prepare everything perfectly,” Stropnicky noted.
The Czech unit in Iceland is comprised of some 70 soldiers, including the ground personnel.
After the mission, the pilots will return to their base in Caslav, central Bohemia, on Friday, again accompanied by an Italian KC-767 to be used for several in-flight refuellings. The technical staff will stay in Iceland a few days longer to prepare the transport of all materiel.
The Gripen unit commander Martin Nezbeda said the training in Iceland is similar to that in the Czech Republic.
“We used the space that is here. The Atlantic is a great advantage for us, we are less limited,” Nezbeda said.
The Czech Republic has leased 14 Gripens made by Saab from Sweden.
The current Icelandic mission has been their fourth deployment to guard the NATO member states’ airspace.
In 2009-2012, they participated in the guarding of the airspace of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. They also protected Iceland last autumn. The Gripens were on alert several times then, but like this year, they took off only for training flights.