Exercise Formidable Shield – Thwarting North Korea

Two highly modified Grumman Gulfstream IIBs, including this example N779LC, call sign Halo 4 belonging to the United States Missile Defense Agency and used as High Altitude Observatory platforms, visited RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk, in early October to take part in Exercise Formidable Shield.
Bob Archer

Early October saw some unusual American visitors to UK shores. First to arrive, at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk, on October 9 were two highly modified Grumman Gulfstream IIBs operated by the Missile Defense Agency as ‘High Altitude Observatory’ (HALO) platforms. The jets, civil registered as N178B (radio call sign Halo 2) and N779LC (radio call sign Halo 4), had arrived from Lajes in the Azores having left Pease International Airport, New Hampshire, the day before. Later the same day, a US Air Force F-16C from the 31st Fighter Wing based at Aviano Air Base, Italy arrived at RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland, carrying an AQM-37C high-speed aerial target. The expendable drone, capable of speeds of up to Mach 4 and altitudes of 100,000ft and more is used for simulating airborne threats ranging from conventional aircraft to missiles. Although the US Air Force would not comment, AIR International understands the jet, which was joined by three other Aviano-based F-16s over the following days, was being flown by members of Air Combat Command’s 53rd Wing based at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida as part of Exercise Formidable Shield. Centred on the QinetiQ-operated Ministry of Defence Hebrides Range, the exercise ran from September 18 to October 18. Led by the US 6th Fleet and supported by the UK Ministry of Defence, it aimed to improve allied interoperability in a live-fire integrated air and missile defence environment, using NATO command and control reporting structures. Both the Gulfstreams and F-16s took part. UK Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said: “North Korean tests have shown the danger of rogue states developing longer range missiles. By hosting this cuttingedge exercise in anti-missile defence with allied navies Britain is at the forefront of developing a more effective response to this growing threat.”

Aviano-based F-16C Fighting Falcon 88-0413 landing at RAF Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland, on October 9. The store under the wing is an AQM-37C Jayhawk high-speed aerial target.
Ade Carver