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Multinational Exercise FORMIDABLE SHIELD

FORMIDABLE SHIELD 2023 ~ NATO Ship Formation for PHOTEX [Crown Copyright]

The multinational exercise FORMIDABLE SHIELD last month saw 4,000 service personnel from 13 nations hone their skills and connect with allies.


News Release, Whitehall, 02 June 2023: A multinational exercise at the MoD Hebrides Range in Scotland last month saw 4,000 service personnel from 13 nations hone their skills and connect with allies.

Exercise FORMIDABLE SHIELD, designed to test the ballistic missile defence capabilities of NATO and its partner nations, highlighted how integration between platforms and nations can be a significant advantage in the battlespace. Taking place between 8-26 May 2023 and featuring platforms such as the Eurofighter Typhoon and F-35 Lightning 2, the exercise saw the air, land, and maritime domains mastered by NATO.

Major General Robin Anderton-Brown, Director of Capability at Strategic Command, said: “The importance of our responsibility for integration across Defence and with our allies was evident on Exercise FORMIDABLE SHIELD. The exercise was a clear demonstration of the coherence of the alliance, and the importance of the need to share and fuse data and information between nations to defeat high speed missile threats.

“As Defence’s integrator, Strategic Command will continue to support this important NATO exercise and exploit key lessons to enhance Defence’s digital capabilities.”

A total of more than 20 ships, 35 aircraft, and eight ground units, including radar platforms and the US M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), took part in the biennial exercise. By working together with our allies and partners, as well as ensuring that the single services within UK Defence are integrated, we can deter and defeat threats to our collective security and stability.

Graham Ball, Deputy Director of Integration at Strategic Command, said: “FORMIDABLE SHIELD demonstrates the value and necessity of working with our allies to drive integration – meaning that we, and our partners, can act in way that is greater than the sum of our collective parts.

“The deterrent effect of the fused and capable defensive systems, as tested on FORMIDABLE SHIELD, have applicability across the spectrum of conflict – supporting campaigning and helping to protect our shared interests.”

The exercise places an emphasis on not only working together, but also adapting and developing rather than repeating the same drills each iteration. As a prominent example of integration, HMS Defender linked up with an RAF Typhoon and HMS Kent, via satellite, to intercept an incoming missile using an air defence system that was first developed in a joint programme with France and Italy, and is now being upgraded at industrial sites across the UK.

Rear Admiral James Morley, Deputy Commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO), said: “FORMIDABLE SHIELD is the premier Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) and live fire rehearsal in the European theatre, and highlights our proficiency in seamlessly integrating allied and partner maritime and air forces into combined operations.”


News Release, Whale Island, 02 June 2023: A Royal Navy warship destroyed a jet drone during the world’s largest test of naval and missile defences.

HMS Defender deployed to Scotland’s Outer Hebrides for FORMIDABLE SHIELD 2023 to test missiles, systems, sensors and software against ballistic, subsonic and supersonic targets, alongside 13 NATO and partner nations. The Type 45 led the Royal Navy’s participation as a dedicated air defence destroyer designed to shield a task group, culminating in a firing of her Sea Viper missile system – the £1bn warship’s primary weapon – during a mission to locate, and destroy a drone designed to be difficult to track and intercept.

Petty Officer Cameron McDonnell controlled the Sea Viper missile fired from Defender against the highly-manoeuvrable drone – designated Bruiser 9384 – which travels at hundreds of miles an hour. ‘Bruiser’ is the NATO codeword for an anti-ship missile. “It’s my role to provide missile and air defence,” he explained. “We’ve been using experimental hardware and software to push our sensors to the limit, ready for the fight of tomorrow.

“We’ve tracked ballistic, subsonic and supersonic targets while working with our allies and partners.

HMS Defender Sea Viper missile firing [Crown Copyright]

“The final stage saw HMS Defender conduct a live missile engagement against an uncrewed aerial vehicle.”

HMS Defender provided an umbrella of protection, calculating that a threat was approaching using her distinctive radar systems: the Sampson (the spiked ball atop the distinctive main mast) and the Long Range (large black rectangle) which, combined, make the Type 45s world-leading air defence ships, giving them the ability to track hundreds of targets as far as 250 miles away. All of this cutting-edge technology makes up the Sea Viper system, which gives Defender the ability to accurately find and track a target before firing the missile itself, known as an Aster 30.

As they tracked Bruiser 9384, PO McDonnell sprang into action, launching a Sea Viper missile against the target. With the order to launch given, the missile burst from its silo in a flash of fire, thunder and smoke, accelerating in a matter of seconds to more than three times the speed of sound as it arced into the Atlantic sky. “Five seconds to impact,” PO McDonnell relayed over the radio. “Viper assessed kill. Bruiser 9384 splashed. Destroyed. Destroyed. Destroyed.”

Each Type 45 destroyer carries up to 48 missiles, each held in a vertical-launch silo on the forecastle at the front of the ship and capable of taking out aerial threats at ranges up to 75 miles away, manoeuvring for the kill at G forces no human can withstand.

Defender also helped push the boundaries of missile and air defence – and her Sea Viper system, ensuring its abilities against a variety of difficult-to-intercept incoming targets. The ship used a special ‘link’ network to provide target details to an RAF Typhoon and shared a target ‘track’ with frigate HMS Kent, via satellite.

Lieutenant Commander Carl Marin-Ortega, HMS Defender’s Weapon Engineer Officer, said the successful firing was crucial not just for today, but for the future of the Fleet’s air defence. The missile system is undergoing a £300m upgrade to ensure the Navy is protected from the latest threats, including anti-ship ballistic missiles. Known as Sea Viper Evolution, the enhancements to both the radar and missile will support 54 jobs in the UK at sites from the Isle of Wight to Hertfordshire, Bristol and Bolton.

“Every year we try something new, something harder; to challenge ourselves and our equipment,” Lt Cdr Marin-Ortega explained. “Not only do we work and train with our national allies and partners but we have furthered the development of our own sovereign capabilities – I was fortunate enough to work previously on the Sea Viper Evolution project which was announced last year and now, being the weapon engineer officer at sea, experimenting and gathering data for it is very satisfying.

“It not only ticks the box as an engineer, but as a war-fighter we get to work with our allies and rehearse the reduced timescales we would see with supersonic and ballistic targets.

“The exercise culminated in the firing, which has been the highlight of my time on board so far.”

Reflecting on a visit to FORMIDABLE SHIELD last month, Minister for Defence Procurement, James Cartlidge MP, said: “FORMIDABLE SHIELD is a hugely important exercise and I was honoured to see first-hand the cooperation between our Allied nations.

“Hosted in the Outer Hebrides, and bringing together aircraft, naval ships and more than 4,000 military personnel from 13 NATO nations, FORMIDABLE SHIELD truly demonstrates our effective collaboration in defending and deterring against emerging threats.”

NATO Ship Formation for PHOTEX [Crown Copyright: LPhot Matt Bradley]


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