Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) and it’s White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) Detachment in New Mexico successfully participated in several missions during the multi-nation At Sea Demonstration/Formidable Shield 2021 (ASD/FS21) exercise, which took place from May 15 to June 3 at the Hebrides Range off Scotland’s coast and also Andøya Space Defense in western Norway.
ASD/FS21 is this year’s most complex live-fire integrated air and missile defense exercise in the European theater. The live training event consisted of 3,300 personnel from 10 NATO nations, 31 aircraft, and 16 Navy ships from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom (U.K.), and the United States.
James “J.C.” Connelly, project manager and test officer for ASD/FS21 at the Hebrides Range, said the team, “successfully accomplished all five missions, including several firsts: launches of a GQM-163 Coyote from a 4.3K launcher that WSMR modified for the exercise, and a Pathfinder Zombie, a short-range ballistic missile target also from the U.S.”
“These targets were provided by a consortium of U.S. stakeholders including Space and Missile Defense Command, Naval Air Systems Command, Point Mugu, Missile Defense Agency and NSWC PHD,” said John Winstead, senior advisor at NSWC PHD’s WSMR. “Additionally, the U.K. Ministry of Defense provided robust numbers of air breathing targets to complete the multi-warfare event.”
In addition, the NSWC PHD and WSMR team launched two missile targets, called Aegis Readiness Assessment Vehicles Group B (ARAV-B), during the exercise. The ARAV-B, also known as the T4-B, according to the Missile Defense Agency, is a solid-fuel rocket-based target vehicle that WSMR designed, built and sent to the exercise that emulates ballistic missile threats, and Connelly said its launch alongside the two other targets is among the team’s many noteworthy accomplishments during the exercise.
“I would say the overall coordination, buildup and launch of the three systems— the ARAV-B, GQM-163 Coyote, and Pathfinder Zombie with differing requirements—all within the concise and expedited schedule was a very successful part of the exercise,” Connelly explained. “We integrated very successfully, and for the first time three different launch teams, two different flight safety/ground safety teams and two different meteorological teams into one, producing a seamless and transparent target array.”
“We (also) had to work around a lot of things because of the COVID-19 pandemic; and despite it, we accomplished everything successfully.”
Jay Breuer, senior target director for suborbital vehicles at the White Sands Detachment, was the senior test director for the two ARAV-B launches during the exercise. He said the intended purpose of the ARAV-B targets was so that the Royal Netherlands Navy could use them to provide a target for USS Paul Ignatius (DDG 117) to engage.
“The Netherlands detected, tracked our target and provided a cue to USS Paul Ignatius, which then fired a SM-3 Block 1A missile, which resulted in an exo-atmospheric intercept of our medium-range ballistic missile target,” Breuer explained. “That’s the first time the United States launched a SM-3 missile based on data provided by a Netherlands ship.”
The team also handled schedule changes with the ARAV-B during the live event, quickly adapting and executing the planned missions, according to Troy Gammill, NSWC PHD system engineer.
“The ARAV-B launches moved from four days apart on the original schedule to one day of separation due to operational, technical and other requirements,” Gammill said. “The NSWC White Sands Missile Range Detachment team was able to safely upload and prepare the second ARAV-B target in one day and successfully launch the second ARAV-B target and meet all requirements. In addition, due to the outstanding planning and execution of NSWC PHD Test Officer James Connelly, the team was able to complete the process of recovering from the first launch, install required cabling and testing, upload the target vehicle, perform range checks, and perform finalization for the flight.”
Exercises like ASD/FS21 open a door of opportunity for the military to actively engage in integrated air and missile defense with allies, strengthen relationships and improve interoperability in meeting the mission and ultimately supporting the Navy and the warfighter.
“It’s just not us and our ships playing the role and providing the ballistic missile defense capabilities, but now we have our other allied nations helping to fulfill that role,” Breuer said. “That allows us to use fewer ships; we can leverage our allied partners’ ships and provide the same amount of protection and coverage in this role, using the Netherlands sensor as an early warning for any of our adversaries’ ballistic missile launches, which greatly expands our advantage.”