As President Biden heads to Europe on his first foreign trip as President, he is focused on building greater collaboration and restoring ties with America’s allies. Last week, a major missile defense exercise, conceived of during the Obama-Biden administration, was concluded, showing the benefits of this type of cooperation. President Biden and his administration now have the opportunity to continue to build on this successful cooperation involving the SM-3 interceptor, as a key plank of his efforts to revitalize U.S. ties to NATO.
The most significant highlight of Exercise At-Sea Demonstration / Formidable Shield 2021 -one of the most complex live-fire, multi-domain, integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) exercises ever executed- was the validation of the Aegis Weapon System’s capability to work alongside a NATO ally to engage live ballistic-missile threats both in Space and from the sea, in a combined, cooperative, and coordinated fashion: utilizing an allied vessel’s early-warning, detection, and tracking capabilities to directly support an engagement and intercept. It was a formidable accomplishment by the Royal Netherlands Navy’s air defense command frigate HNLMS De Zeven Provincien (F802) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Ignatius (DDG 117).
“This event marked a major milestone in the scientific effort to integrate allied space sensors into NATO IAMD, comprising rigorous engineering efforts between several countries and major contributions from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA).” — Lt. Cmdr. Bethany Burdick, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa; June 4th, 2021.
The missile targets for this exercise represented the Fateh-110, a short-range ballistic missile and an anti-ship missile integral to Iran’s arsenal. The target ballistic missiles were launched from the U.K. Ministry of Defence’s Hebrides Missile Range, Scotland, and were intercepted by the SM-3 Block IAs and the Aster 30s. The Fateh-110 has been Iran’s base model SRBM, and it has been developed into a myriad of variants — most recently, Iran has reported a successful test of a Fateh-110-modeled anti-ship missile. Previous technology sharing and industry supply channels between Iran and Russia demonstrate the speed with which offensive capabilities can be transferred. The Fateh-110 and its many variants present a formidable threat to U.S., allied, and partner A2/AD in Europe, however, the USS Paul Ignatius demonstrated proven capability to negate this specific threat by way of layered, multi-national air defenses. The demonstration is driven by Russian threats in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea, as well as the multiplying threats to Europe of short-range ballistic missile deployments in the Kaliningrad enclave of the Russian Federation. These types of missile threats are an important element of Russian strategy in an open-conflict scenario against NATO, especially around the Baltic Sea and Black Sea regions.
“Delivering integrated air and missile defence, and specifically ballistic missile defence, is one of STRIKFORNATO’s primary roles on behalf of the Alliance.” — Rear Adm. James Morley, Deputy Commander, STRIKFORNATO.
The “any sensor, any shooter” concept at the forefront of the At-Sea Demo / Formidable Shield 21 is fully in-step with IAMD requirements, and introduces cross-domain flexibility to allies and partners across the entire continent of Europe. At-Sea Demo / Formidable Shield 2021 was conducted from May 15th until June 2nd in the North Atlantic Ocean, with participating naval air and naval formations from Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO), on behalf of the U.S. Sixth Fleet. The exercise included 10 nations with the participation of: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. ASD/FS-21 was also planned and supported by the Maritime Theater Missile Defense Forum (MTMD-F): a coalition of 12 nations that focuses on improving interoperability and force capabilities in maritime missile defense.
Most remarkably, this extraordinary exercise represents collective strategic deterrence and defense, with unprecedented scope and scale. The operational designs are now proven, and they will be perfected systematically over time. Moreover, this missile-defense framework is replicable and repeatable. We can expect that the same designs will be implemented systematically across the vast expanse of the Indo-Pacific region with our allies and partners — and with even greater scope and scale.
“We had the opportunity to demonstrate the combined capabilities and interoperability of NATO. We did our job well in demonstrating what we are capable of.” — Cmdr. Lennard Cannon, commanding officer of USS Paul Ignatius.
The SM-3 intercepts represented some of the most challenging moments of this exercise because each clearly demonstrated the will and the technical and operational abilities that reside within NATO, ultimately strengthening the deterrence credibility of the alliance through resolute collective defense. What the Paul Ignatius and De Zeven Provincien accomplished together demonstrates the feasibility of the underlayer for theater and European homeland missile defense, with burden sharing, to include the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System at sea. Our NATO and European leaders have to work hard to bring Space and missile-defense effectors and cross-domain air, land, sea, and Space live-fire, integrated exercises to bear with such a proven, readily available capability in order to deter Russia and defend Europe.
Success has now been proven on both land and sea, and now is the time to integrate large-scale air, land, and sea exercises of comparable magnitude. The U.S. Army-led NATO exercise, Defender Europe 21, spanned 12 countries and involved 28,000 total participants. Exercises similar to Formidable Shield, Astral Knight, and Defender Europe should be integrated across all five domains to demonstrate the overarching NATO missile-defense umbrella over all of Europe. It is imperative to increase ally and partner participation in a select-few number of major IAMD exercises, in order to tackle the challenges of layered defense, interoperability, and command & control across all services and domains.
With President Biden’s departure to Europe today, the success of At-Sea Demo / Formidable Shield 21 provides a great opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge the strong work that created this collectively integrated, interoperable demonstration of missile defense with our NATO allies. Formidable Shield was originated by President Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden, with the first iteration taking place from September 24th, 2017. The biennial exercise has evolved from a concept into the premier cross-domain, interoperable, live-fire exercise in Europe. The foundation to build upon for even greater success was laid during the Obama-Biden administration. President Biden now has the opportunity to improve upon this sturdy foundation in order to generate even more effective, interoperable missile defenses with America’s NATO allies and partners, as he works to revitalize this critical alliance.