More than a Missile: Formidable Shield 2023 and How Missile Technology Meets Maritime Operations
The biennial exercise Formidable Shield (FS) has been bringing together NATO Allies and partner countries in the waters and airspace of northern Europe since 2015. Initially, it was just a missile test and evaluation exercise scripted to evaluate multinational missile defense collaboration efforts. Still, over the years, it has evolved into a complex mission rehearsal that tests a diverse set of skills and frameworks, communication strategies, and equipment central to missile defense.
In this article, we will explore how FS started, how it evolved, and what it means for the future of our maritime operations.
Where It All Started
Formidable Shield initially started off as a scripted missile test and evaluation exercise in 2015 under the Maritime Theater Missile Defense Forum (MTMDF). The exercise was countdown-centric, with the participants knowing exactly where they needed to be and when they needed to be there. There was little operational or fleet involvement, and the exercise did not simulate how ships would be deployed in a real-world scenario.
Formidable Shield: The Evolution
Formidable Shield was then picked up by the U.S. Sixth Fleet in 2017, which turned it into what we know today. Even then, the exercise remained relatively scripted, with the primary objective being to help the Netherlands prove ballistic tracking capabilities.
The real evolution came in 2019 when the Sixth Fleet was invited to observe a Norwegian exercise called Mjølner, which was fast-paced and operationally focused. The flexibility and rapidity inherent in Mjølner became a major influence on the core structure of Formidable Shield.
What FS Means for Maritime Operations
Although Formidable Shield is all about missile defense, missiles aren’t the core part of the exercise. What’s essential is how people work together to make sure those missiles strike their target. In each of the exercise’s phases, we practice multiple things, not just missile launch and coordination or countering missiles with ships and aircraft at sea.
FS is more than just missile technology; it tests everything around missiles too. It tests how ships communicate, what radar works effectively, how we can integrate as a team, and what equipment each country brings. Every nation brings different equipment and systems that combine to equal different strengths.
The teams also focus on the operational construct of the exercise, which imitates a real-world scenario. This construct sets FS apart from other exercises as it incorporates the latest operational doctrine, strategies, and tactics tried and tested by each country.
Formidable Shield has evolved from a scripted missile test and evaluation exercise to an operationally-focused mission rehearsal that imitates real-world scenarios. It tests equipment capabilities, communication skills, and operational constructs, which have all been tried and tested by each nation, making it unique.
– Is held biennially, with the next exercise scheduled for 2023.
– Is a three-phase exercise that focuses on missile defense.
– Involves different teams from different countries testing various equipment and systems.
Formidable Shield is about more than just missiles; it is an opportunity for different nations to test their equipment and systems for integrated operations. It is a way to try and achieve unity among different teams and promote cohesion among different cultures. FS provides a unique opportunity to test operational constructs that improve our maritime readiness and makes us better capable of keeping the seas free and open.