Royal Canadian Navy participates in NATO missile exercise

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Navy News / November 14, 2017

By Lieutenant (Navy) Linda Coleman

It’s early October in the North Atlantic off the coast of Scotland. A NATO Maritime Task Group consisting of eight nations is operating in consort. As Canadians back home are celebrating Thanksgiving, tensions are high in the Operations Room of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Montréal. The ship is under imminent threat as a fictitious enemy nation has fired a ballistic missile and anti-ship missiles in their direction. The NATO Maritime Task Group is there to take all enemy missiles out.

Naval Combat Information Operator: “Pop-up! Bearing 1-5-8, range 20 miles.”

Operations Room Officer: “Take all missiles threatening HMCS Montréal!”

Above Water Warfare Officer: “A-system locked on. Missile away!”

These are just some of the commands heard throughout the Operations Room when an enemy missile is detected and fired upon. HMCS Montréal’s Above Water Warfare Officer, Lieutenant (Navy) Anne Day, launches the ship’s Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles to intercept the simulated incoming threat. She successfully engages the threat, defending her ship and her shipmates.

Welcome to FORMIDABLE SHIELD 2017.

Few people have had the occasion to experience what Lt(N) Day has just accomplished. Firing missiles from a warship is an extremely complex task involving high-tech systems programmed with the latest technology.

Immediately after the launch, embarked civilian technical experts from Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Scott, along with embarked contractors, begin analyzing data from the Combat Management System, radars and other technical equipment. The data collected is sent to the Maritime Warfare Centre in Halifax where it is analyzed in order to validate or refine tactics and doctrine to find new and improved ways to fight the ship. Their presence plays an important role in keeping the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) a globally deployable, multi-mission capable enterprise.

So what exactly is FORMIDABLE SHIELD, and why was the RCN participating?

FORMIDABLE SHIELD is the first in a planned recurring biennial exercise that follows NATO’s decision in 2010 to develop a capability to defend its European members from ballistic missile threats. The exercise is building upon the capabilities demonstrated during At-Sea Demonstration 2015, which included the first NATO ship transmissions of Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) cues to a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer.

Conducted by Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO on behalf of the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet, FORMIDABLE SHIELD is designed to improve allied interoperability in an Integrated Air Missile Defence (IAMD) environment using NATO command and control reporting structures, and to train the countries’ missile defence systems. Combined BMD and air defence live-fire engagements are inserted into the exercise to simulate real world operations. The live-fire exercise was the first time in Europe that allies practised defending against incoming ballistic missiles with no prior warning.

During the exercise, allied ships detected, tracked and defended against a range of targets simulating anti-ship and ballistic missiles. Drills included sharing a common tactical picture (through the Link 16 communications system), and conducting joint mission planning and engagement coordination.

“Link 16 is critical for FORMIDABLE SHIELD,” said Master Seaman Jeffrey Miller, Naval Combat Information Operator and Link 16 coordinator. “It enables us to build a shared maritime picture with our NATO allies, which in turn leads to successful interoperability.”

The role of HMCS Montréal during the exercise was to “help protect the BMD shooters from the more conventional anti-ship missile threats,” said Commander Chris Sherban, Commanding Officer of HMCS Montréal. “What was great about this exercise was that it was a black missile firing event which means that we were not cued ahead of time to where and when the threat would present itself. When the threat was detected and the war cries were made, it was fantastic to see how the team and the system performed. It gave us a lot of confidence in the ability of the system to perform and help defend the ship in a high threat operational environment.”

The RCN routinely conducts international maritime training with like-minded nations. NATO is one of Canada’s longest standing and most enduring partnerships, and the RCN is committed to acting collectively with NATO allies and the international community to ensure maritime stability and security. So the RCN’s participation in FORMIDABLE SHIELD is no surprise.

“Participation in NATO live-fire exercises such as FORMIDABLE SHIELD is important for the RCN as it allows us to test our interoperability with our allies and our ability to integrate into a task group in a complex warfare environment,” said Captain (Navy) Jeff Hamilton, Deputy Commander Canadian Fleet Atlantic and Test Director embarked in HMCS Montréal for FORMIDABLE SHIELD 17. “Exercises like this allow us to test the sophisticated equipment required in modern naval warfare and evaluate crew proficiency in tactical doctrine, as well as their ability to communicate effectively in the most demanding environment possible.”

Parts of FORMIDABLE SHIELD overlapped with the United Kingdom-led JOINT WARRIOR 172, which also took place off the coast of Scotland. JOINT WARRIOR is a multinational exercise that typically involves over 30 warships, numerous aircraft, marines and troops, and is the largest military exercise in Europe. This year’s iteration focused on anti-submarine, mine warfare and live-firing activity.

The RCN led anti-submarine warfare (ASW) training during JOINT WARRIOR 172. HMCS Montréal released Expendable Mobile ASW Training Targets (EMATTs), which simulate submarine movements and noise patterns and act as training for sonar operators. HMCS Montréal, along with seven other warships from allied navies, used Montréal’s EMATTs for ASW training, practising the detection, location and tracking of enemy submarines, all while strengthening interoperability.

It’s only fitting that HMCS Montréal was the ship chosen to take part in FORMIDABLE SHIELD. It is the RCN’s Experimental Ship – or “X-Ship” – a program designed to advance innovative and leading edge naval concepts in all areas of warship deployment, crewing and sustainment. The innovative X-Ship program will benefit the RCN in many ways as streamlining capabilities and finding new efficiencies allows increased effectiveness across a wide array of naval operations.

“There’s a definite synergy between our role as the X-Ship and our participation in FORMIDABLE SHIELD 17. We are helping to define the capabilities of the future fleet to participate in an IAMD Task Group and defeat current and evolving maritime threats,” said Cdr Sherban.

FORMIDABLE SHIELD ran from September 24 to October 17, 2017 on the U.K. Ministry of Defence’s Hebrides Range based in the Western Isles of Scotland. The exercise involved 14 ships, 10 aircraft and approximately 3,300 personnel from eight nations, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.