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Icelandic Air Mercenaries?

September 15, 2010

It’s been a bizarre week for austerity measures. No, I am not talking about proposed British defense cuts or any American budgetary debates. But just when I caught news of Cuba’s enormous public sector jobs cut lent credence to Jeffrey Goldberg’s surreal interview with Castro, I realized that another idiosyncratic island state in dire financial straits, Iceland, had already come up with a much more interesting way to keep its economy afloat.

Some might remember discussion about Russia bailing out Iceland and fears about Moscow gaining access to military staging areas in the GIUK gap. Well, that all came to naught, but  now the private sector might be stepping in to do the exact same thing.

TV station Russia Today mailed me a story by Robert Bridge on how Cash-strapped Iceland to host “private army” – and Russian jets. The company, which has a really slick website (and Twitter!), is seemingly flush with cash. They reportedly paid Iceland $160mn to gain rights to Keflavik airbase and plan to acquire 30 Su-27 fighters from Belarus for use in mock war games. If confirmed, this would make it the largest single order for military aircraft by a private investor.

So, if that sale of Sukhoi fighters goes through, we could see Russian-built jets patrolling Iceland (An unarmed NATO member) but in the service of a Dutch-owned private military company looking to provide a professional solution to air forces in need of an OPFOR. Anatoly Karlin speculates that the high cost of purchasing and maintaining a private air force imply that there must be some interested third-party to keep ECA in the black:

Is their denial of any connections to foreign governments the truth or a smokescreen? Why is BelTechExport, Belarus’ arms export company, denying knowledge of the Su-37 deal that Melville ten Cate, ECA’s Dutch co-founder, has reported as done to the Financial Times? How can they afford the vast costs of buying an airbase, 30 fourth-generation fighters (unit cost: $30mn), and maintenance without the help of a friendly billionaire or foreign government?

Now, this would not be the first time a Dutch state-sponsored trans-national corporation amassed a military stronger than those of its host country. But the numbers may mean that without a foreign backer, ECA may be more hype than anything.

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