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NEWS | May 20, 2023

A War at Sea: Formidable Shield 2023 enhances Allies’ warfighting proficiency

By Lt. Cmdr. Tyler Barker

Surface Action Group (SAG) Sword, led by Spanish Navy Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate ESPS Blas De Lezo (F 103), steamed in formation from the north, readying their combat systems for the fight. To the south, Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) and SAG Shield prepared to join them in neutralizing the threat. In the frigid waters off Scotland’s Cape Wrath, these Allied SAGs put their experience, weapons systems, and procedures to the test.
Conducted toward the middle portion of the overall exercise, the “War at Sea” phase of exercise Formidable Shield 2023 marked an inflection point between exercise-related events taking place off the coast of northern Norway and the force’s current operations on the Hebrides Range and in the North Atlantic Ocean. The War at Sea involved a series of gunnery exercises (GUNNEX) and combined anti-submarine exercises (CASEX) against fictitious targets, challenging Allied SAGs in multi-domain warfighting, enhancing their ability to operate as a cohesive team.
“As Force anti-submarine warfare commander, [French Navy FREMM frigate] FS Bretagne provides undersea surveillance and defense of the force against any threats underwater,” said FS Bretagne’s Operations Officer. “This ability has been demonstrated in an extremely wide area and in challenging meteorological conditions. Formidable Shield improves our individual and combined capacity in this area. It also outlines the high level reached by the Alliance in this particular field.”
Prior to the War at Sea, SAG Sword and SAG Shield were two separate groups separated by 1,000 nautical miles at sea but integrated under the command of the Task Group Commander embarked in Blas De Lezo. Sword focused on the North and Norwegian Seas and Shield sailed in the North Atlantic, generating the conditions and effects necessary to support more fixed operations off the Hebrides when the two groups ultimately combined.
While disaggregated, maintaining communications and situational awareness between the two groups demanded flexibility from the units and an understanding of the common goal. These groups came together for the War at Sea, testing and enhancing their proficiency in a simulated multi-domain battle scenario. Their common goal in this scenario: neutralize the enemy threat and protect the force.
"The anti-air warfare section on HNoMS Roald Amundsen has to make sure that our battle systems are ready and that our operators have the training they need to shoot down a potential target," said Lieutenant Rokkones, Royal Norwegian Navy Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate HNoMS Roald Amundsen (F 311)’s anti-air warfare commander.
Cooperation in a shared battle space against a common adversary required confidence in one another. Each participating unit and nation needed to know what the others were doing, thinking, and working to achieve. This common understanding was bolstered by Allied contributions to a variety of warfare commander roles in the composite warfare commander (CWC) concept.
The composite warfare doctrine exists to provide survivability and efficiency in managing complex, multi-domain operations. It places command decision making and trust in the hands of capable units and personnel to fill various domain responsibilities through command by negation, where actions are pre-planned, commander’s intent is well understood, and warfare commanders have the ability to carry out orders in the absence of further guidance.
Formidable Shield takes this CWC concept one step farther, by incorporating Allied units into the command and control reporting structure and empowering them to carry out their commander’s intent in a variety of exercise evolutions.
“Decentralizing warfare area responsibilities during an exercise like Formidable Shield demonstrates our ability to train and fight as a cohesive, combat credible force,” said Capt. Jon Lipps, U.S. Sixth Fleet’s Commander, Task Force 64, and Formidable Shield Officer in Tactical Control (OTC). “As an Alliance, we can, and often do, combine our many unique capabilities into a multinational force that deters adversaries and can defend our members if necessary. These capabilities, when combined as they are here in Formidable Shield, underscore the true power and potential of our Allied maritime forces across the joint domains.”
Dividing principal warfare area responsibilities in a CWC concept reinforces Allies’ abilities to counter a variety of subsonic and supersonic threats from multiple directions and in multiple domains. This decentralized and delegated structure also leverages the advantages inherent in different national platforms, while ensuring that capabilities and objective priorities complement one another.
“Formidable Shield is an exercise with the main focus on anti-air warfare,” said the Air Defense Officer aboard Royal Netherlands Navy De Zeven Provinciën-class frigate HNLMS Tromp (F 803). “As the anti-air warfare commander, we make sure the whole task group [TG] is looking at an identical tactical picture and is aware of the individual units’ contribution to TG protection in the anti-air warfare [AAW] domain. At the same time, the contribution from all units to the AAW picture, brought to the commander of the task group by Tromp, ensures timely and justified reactions from the group.”
With their combined capacity, command and control expertise, and overwhelming firepower, SAGs Shield and Sword made short work of their exercise adversary. The lessons learned and shared experiences of their time together will no doubt pay dividends to these Allies and to the NATO Alliance against any future Formidable Shield foes, and in exercises, activities and operations to come.
Formidable Shield is a biennial integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) exercise involving a series of live-fire events against subsonic, supersonic, and ballistic targets, incorporating multiple Allied ships, ground forces, and aviation forces working across battlespaces to deliver effects. Formidable Shield demonstrates Alliance cohesion, cutting-edge capacity and capability, and NATO Allies’ combined commitment to the deterrence and defense of NATO territory.
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