Formidable Shield 19, an integrated missile defense exercise held off the coast of Scotland, will begin tomorrow. Taking place on the Hebrides Range, the exercise will last two weeks and involve ships from nine separate NATO-member nations. The objective is to improve interoperability between NATO navies in the missile defense arena.
The roster of ships reads like a what’s what of modern NATO surface combatants. There will be three guided missile destroyers present for the exercise, the Royal Navy’s Type 45 HMS Defender and the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class USS Roosevelt and USS Carney. Making up the bulk of the fleet will be NATO frigates, represented by Italy’s ITS Carlo Bergamini, Canada’s HMCS St. John’s, French FS Bretagne, Norwegian HNoMS Otto Sverdrup, and the Dutch HNLMS De Ruyter. These represent a ship from each of the major class of warships in NATO, with the exception of the Danish Iver Huitfeld-class frigates and any of the German frigates. The exercise is not entirely without German and Belgian representation, as several naval staff officers from both countries will be on hand, embarked with the control team.
The ships of the exercise will work jointly to engage cruise missile targets. Interoperability is always a challenge with the wide variety of naval combat systems present in NATO today. Even with some common systems—both the Burkes and the Otto Sverdrup use SPY-1D and the AEGIS combat system—there are a mountain of problems to operating a multi-national task force. Exercises such as this help in identifying issues and fixing them.
Previous years have shown a different focus. The 2017 exercise was a primarily BMD exercise. BMD is a general weak point for non-US navies, and the lack of appropriate weapons for the job is only part of the problem. US supplied SM-3s were fired by several nations’ ships in 2017 as they engaged short and medium range ballistic targets. However, the sensors for BMD are finally becoming more prevalent throughout NATO, as the SMART-S and SPY-1 radars become an international standard.
Formidable Shield is a biennial NATO missile defense exercise. The last one was held in 2017 and the next, after the conclusion of this year’s, will be held in 2021.