May 6, 2021 – To support and strengthen relationships with NATO allies as part of the Maritime Theater Missile Defense Forum (MTMD-F) and to also test with partners the latest in air and missile defense technical capabilities, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) will be participating in the 2021 At Sea Demonstration/Formidable Shield Exercise with 10 allied nations, including the U.S.
The event, scheduled for May 15 to June 3 at the Hebrides Range off Scotland’s coast and at Andøya Space Defense off Norway’s coast, is an interactive exercise in which military forces are challenged with numerous targets and threats at sea, and work together to defend against air and missile attacks. NSWC PHD is partnering with Navy commanders of the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the technical capabilities’ testing.
“The intended goal is to exercise integrated air and missile defense in a live-fire scenario where you have actual targets attacking the ships and defending regions themselves, and the ships will launch weapons and missiles against those to negate them,” said Eric Hedlund, target working group co-chair with the Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS). “We have different scenarios and different capabilities that are being demonstrated between all the allied nations that are participating out there.”
Lt. Cmdr. Alisha Hamilton, At-Sea Demonstration technical project officer with IWS 1.0, said participants involved with the exercise have dedicated more than two years of planning to ensure the event is a success and the team accomplishes its goals.
“NSWC Port Hueneme’s main efforts are both by the ship project teams based in Port Hueneme and the detachment in White Sands, New Mexico,” Hamilton said. “The team in New Mexico led the herculean effort to bring on a new launcher.”
The new launcher will launch GQM-163 Coyote supersonic sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missile targets as a new addition to the exercise this year. The idea for the launcher first began as a sketch on a napkin—by a team from NSWC PHD’s White Sands Missile Range Detachment (WSMR) to modify the AML 4K3 launcher built in the late 1960s for the purpose of launching GQM-163 Coyote missile targets during the Formidable Shield exercise.
NSWC PHD has been participating in the robust exercise since 2015, which occurs biennially on odd-numbered years. This year, the warfare center will have a key role providing five U.S. targets, including two T4-Bs, two GQM-163 Coyotes and one Pathfinder Zombie.
“Every year, it (MTMD-F) tries to do something more challenging with the combined (allied) navies, and this year, it specifically wanted to do a presentation of supersonic sea-skimming cruise missiles, and the U.S. is one of the few countries that has a supersonic sea-skimming missile target, which is the GQM-163 Coyote,” said John Winstead, senior advisor at NSWC PHD’s White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) Detachment in New Mexico. “As far as I know, this will be one of the few instances in which the forum has taken this target overseas and fired it on location outside a Continental United States range or a U.S.-owned range.”
Although T4-Bs have flown at the Hebrides Range in the past, the GQM-163 Coyote and the Pathfinder Zombie targets are new to the range, according to Hedlund.
Also, Hedlund said because the Hebrides Range normally isn’t equipped to handle new targets, the team took on the additional challenge of delivering certain components of the WSMR to Hebrides to successfully fly the targets.
“The Hebrides Range doesn’t have a lot of infrastructures built up like WSMR does, so we are bringing elements of the WSMR to the Hebrides for flight safety and display,” Hedlund explained, such as its new GQM-163 Coyote slug launcher.
According to Winstead, the White Sands team first verified and tested the Coyote slug launchers at WSMR to ensure the launcher would function as planned before sending it to the Hebrides Range.
“We did two slug—partially functional flight vehicles—launches to make sure we understood the characterization of the launcher and the way it behaves when it’s used under firing conditions and that all the subsystems worked the way we expected them to and didn’t have to be corrected,” Winstead explained. “We then had to tear it down and box it up and send it to Scotland and get it all back installed, and confirm correct operation with work that the Scottish and the United Kingdom did to put in infrastructure at Hebrides Range.”
Along with providing the infrastructure and targets, three U.S. Navy destroyers as well as a Navy T-AKE ship from the East Coast will also take part in the exercises at the Hebrides Range.
With an exercise as robust and detailed as Formidable Shield, the team is hoping to learn important lessons to apply to Navy defense capabilities in the future. One of those lessons is learning to communicate and effectively work with other military forces if faced with a potential threat.
“There’s a strong interoperability flavor to these events—in other words—how can you put a spare group of ships and make them work together as a task force or a battle group,” Winstead said. “And if it involves multiple nation ships, that’s a pretty tall order.
“There is also the effort of testing a new capability on ships to defend against ballistic missiles,” he added. “All of those lessons are 100% transferable to other fleet units at other locations as lessons learned.”
Hamilton also stressed the importance of working well with allies.
“The bottom line is we can’t go into the fight alone; we have to do it alongside allied partners, and so this exercise holds up to the light of day how well we work with our allies—and not only one or two nations, but nine other nations.”
In total, about 4,000 people participate in Formidable Shield, up from the 3,000 who participated in the prior exercise. Roughly 20 people from NSWC PHD and White Sands will join the effort this year. Formidable Shield 2021 is a fully joint operation, including U.S. and Norwegian Army and Air Force personnel and the U.S. Marine Corps.
“The NSWC PHD and White Sands team started preparing for the exercise three years ago by identifying the hardware and personnel that would be needed for the exercise from top to bottom,” Winstead said. “The team accomplished a lot of work, despite never doing the exercise before, and learned it from the ground up, and the members are to be admired for sticking with it and making it a success. This is new ground for the PMA 208 folks at Point Mugu, Space and Missile Defense Command and our NSWC PHD folks to make a reality. To service Integrated Warfare Systems requirements for putting capability together in support of the U.S. Sixth Fleet is also something to be admired.”