Three Royal Navy warships have joined NATO allies in the worlds largest test of naval air and missile defences.
The forecastle of HMS Defender is partially hidden by fire and smoke as she fires a Sea Viper.
Courtesy Royal Navy
Played out off Scotland’s Outer Hebrides and Norway’s Arctic coast, the three-week-long Formidable Shield 2021 will test missile systems, sensors, software – and the hundreds of men and women operating them as they demonstrate their ability to deal with the latest aerial threats.
It will see live missile launches as the NATO allies demonstrate their individual and collective ability to track, identify and ultimately destroy incoming threats in the skies, including testing ballistic missile defence.
HMS Dragon leads the Royal Navy’s participation as a dedicated air defence destroyer designed to shield a task group with her Sea Viper missile system.
Using her Sampson radar – the spinning ‘spiked egg’ atop her main mast – the Portsmouth-based warship has the ability to detect and follow a missile’s progress from launch to ‘splash’ (when it is destroyed).
She’s joined by frigates HMS Lancaster and Argyll, whose Sea Ceptor systems also provide shorter range defence against incoming missiles and aircraft.
Both systems will be tested against supersonic high-diving targets plummeting towards the task group at speeds in excess of 12,000mph – 16 times the speed of sound – as well as sea-skimming drones simulating missiles, weaving at high sub-sonic speeds in a bid to outfox the radars tracking them.
The highlight for the Royal Navy will be one of Dragon’s Sea Viper missiles intercepting a Firejet target drone, racing over the Atlantic at more than 400mph but just 20ft above the waves.
HMS Argyll with her Wildcat helicopter
Other missiles in the Sea Viper family will be fired by other participants, alongside US-made Sea Sparrow and Standard Missiles 2, against a mix of sub and supersonic drone targets.
Rigorous safety checks and procedures are in place to ensure the ranges are safe and the risk to surrounding areas and other users are negligible.
In addition to testing the weapon systems and sensors, the British ships are also due to test cutting-edge software which is designed to alleviate the burden on the team in the operations room who pore over the display screens constantly looking out for potential threats.
Ten NATO nations – Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the UK and USA – have thrown their hats in the ring, committing ships, aircraft, ground assets and staff.
Led by the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet and using Spanish frigate ESPS Cristóbal Colón as the flagship, in its 2021 iteration – Formidable Shield is staged every two years – the exercise involves 15 ships, more than ten aircraft and in excess of 3,000 personnel.
The exercise is intended to assure allies, deter adversaries, and demonstrate the commitment of NATO to collective defence.
“Delivering integrated air and missile defence, and specifically ballistic missile defence, is one of STRIKFORNATO’s primary roles on behalf of the Alliance,” said Rear Admiral James Morley, the British Deputy Commander of STRIKFORNATO.
“Formidable Shield 21 is an important opportunity to further develop fighting capability and domain integration against a challenging set of realistic targets – a demonstration of our resolve to counter the threat.”