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  • Rear Admiral James Morley, Deputy Commander, STRIKFORNATO, and Captain Jonathan Lipps, USN Commander, Task Force SIX FOUR, discuss Formidable Shield, a biennial integrated air and missile defense exercise

MODERATOR:  Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub.  I’d like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing.  Today we’re very honored to be joined by Rear Admiral James Morley, Deputy Commander, STRIKFORNATO, and Captain Jonathan Lipps, USN Commander, Task Force SIX FOUR, to discuss Formidable Shield, a biennial integrated air and missile defense exercise. 

And finally, a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record.  And with that, let’s get started.  Rear Admiral Morley and Captain Lipps, thank you so much for joining us today.  I’ll turn it over to you for opening remarks.   

REAR ADMIRAL MORLEY:  Thanks very much, Andrea.  Good afternoon, everyone.  I’m really grateful to you for joining the call this afternoon so we can explain what we’re aiming to achieve in the Formidable Shield exercise, and to take any questions that you have. 

As Andrea mentioned, I’m Rear Admiral James Morley.  I’m the Deputy Commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, or STRIKFORNATO for short, headquartered in Lisbon, in Portugal, and I’m currently underway on the Spanish flagship Blas de Lezo with a multinational staff, including Captain Lipps beside me, where we’ve been for the last month to command and control the air, land, and maritime forces that we’ve been working with from the ship. 

Formidable Shield is a unique exercise in Europe in that it combines routine tactical training with the most complex offensive and defensive live missile firings that you’ll see anywhere in the world.  Although it’s a U.S.-sponsored event, it’s an opportunity for NATO-allied air, land, and maritime forces to come together to improve the integration of sensors and effectors, or weapons if you like, on a shared network, what we refer to as integrated air and missile defense.  And this is the largest integrated air and missile defense activity that we do in Europe.  Conducted every two years, it’s exploiting the strategic value and the space offered by (inaudible) and validation of missile systems.  In other words, building combat credibility. 

In this year’s exercise, we’ve brought together more than 20 ships, a submarine, 35 aircraft, and eight ground-based units, including U.S. Marine Corps High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, and a Norwegian National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, training together and working together to counter the broadest range of subsonic, supersonic, and ballistic missile targets, initially operating concurrently a thousand miles apart, and now together off the coast of Scotland. 

I mentioned our staff (inaudible) in the ship.  Overall coordination is being led by the staff back in Lisbon, providing overall command and control of the exercise, and reaffirming STRIKFORNATO’s principal role as a staff to integrate the high-end maritime capabilities like this into Alliance operations, and making sure that those operations stay in lockstep with NATO’s wider defend and deter priorities.  And I couldn’t be more pleased with the calm professionalism and dedication of the whole team – those at sea in the ships, the aircraft and their detachments, and the land forces that we’ve had deployed on the ground.  And that also applies to the range staff who work tirelessly not only to test our capacities, but also to keep us and everyone near us safe.   

So I’ll hand it to Jon now to talk a little bit about what we’ve achieved and what we’ve accomplished here and the proficiency of all those involved in this exercise.  And thanks very much again for your interest and your time this afternoon.  Over to Jon. 

CAPTAIN LIPPS:  Thanks, Admiral.  I am Captain Jon Lipps, Commander of Task Force 64, and as the overall tactical commander of the exercise, I’d like to echo the appreciation we share for you all for your interest in what we are doing here in Formidable Shield. 

To set the stage for a moment, I want you to imagine what we call a surface action group, or a SAG: a group of ships at sea, operating above the Arctic Circle, working with U.S. Marines, Norwegian NASAMS batteries, and allied aircraft to track, target, and engage targets in multiple domains simultaneously.   

While these engagements are occurring, the surface action group is demonstrating how to operate in the challenging conditions found in the High North.  Meanwhile, a thousand nautical miles away, another surface action group under my command is off Scotland’s west coast.   

In a multidomain context, that’s what this exercise is all about: almost 20 ships with Alliance aircraft and a U.S. submarine that are working together across domains, combat systems configurations, and capabilities to ensure access and maneuver across the global commons.   

The admiral mentioned Formidable Shield occurs every two years, and with each iteration our teams raise the bar on just what we are capable of together.  This exercise is not designed to exhibit perfection, but rather it is an opportunity for us to test, stress, and improve our mutual capabilities.   

This year, for instance, the Italian air force conducted the first air-to-air live engagement of the Formidable Shield campaign of a target over water.  It involved more ships, more engagement, more fourth- and fifth-generation fighter aircraft than ever before, and we’ve integrated the ground forces in new and innovative ways.  Our ships have passed target quality data to one another, proving that we can engage threats while closely linked and sharing a common site picture.  We’ve brought Marines to the mountains of Norway to engage a maritime threat with the HIMARS, while NASAMS provided anti-air coverage over water and in augmentation to our ships at sea.  We fired 31 missiles from across the force, demonstrating not only our readiness and an ability to defend our nations and our Alliance, but the unbreakable bond we share together as Allies. 

This exercise shows just what we are capable of when we work together.  And we’re excited to get the chance to talk to you about what we’ve done.  So thank you very much.  I sincerely look forward to your questions.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  We’ll now turn to the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing.  And for our first question we’ll go to Jan Kreller from Luxemburger Wort.  He has pre-submitted questions.  So, “Could you speak a little bit more about which countries are participating in these exercises?  And can you elaborate on the series of live-fire events that are part of the exercises?”  

REAR ADMIRAL MORLEY:  So, Andrea, I’ll just start firstly by splitting the answer into two elements, if I may.  I think firstly, to understand this is a U.S.-sponsored exercise, but it’s absolutely happening in a NATO context.  So it’s happening with the clear and direct oversight of the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, who is monitoring what we are doing, and it has involved two of our Joint Force Command Headquarters, one in Norfolk and one in Brunssum, in whose geographical areas the activities have been conducted.   

On those staffs, we have representatives from pretty much all 31 nations.  So in an oversight and command and control sense, this exercise has involved all 31 NATO nations.  But I think the question is probably directed to the actual forces that have been committed, and in which case I’ll hand the second part of the answer to Jon. 

CAPTAIN LIPPS:  (Inaudible) 17 ships from 13 nations.  The staff embarked on the flagship, my task group staff composed of 25 representatives and representing 12 other nations, encapsulated the configuration here afloat and at sea.  So it was a – I think a very broad-reaching (inaudible) planning and command and control, and as Admiral Morley mentioned, the consideration of the larger Joint Force commanders and their international staffs represent the totality of the Alliance in execution of the exercise.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And I’ll continue with some questions – another couple of questions that Jan Kreller asked.  “Concerning Russia’s war in Ukraine, which involves missile warfare too, does this circumstance affect the exercise in any certain way?”   

REAR ADMIRAL MORLEY:  Andrea, I’ll answer that.  So it’s James Morley again.  So the answer is no.  Routine evolutions on the Alliance’s northern flank, including Formidable Shield and what the staff is about to commence, an exercise referred to as BALTOPS or Baltic Operations, demonstrate the mutual commitments that NATO nations have to each other and to deterring aggression and defending NATO territory in what is a vital region.  So these exercises are emblematic of NATO’s allied operations, demonstrating cohesion and cutting-edge capability and capacity and, as I’ve said, a shared commitment to deterring aggression and defending the Alliance as (inaudible) called upon. 

Does that answer the question?  Over.  

MODERATOR:  Yes, I think so.  And one last question from Jan:  “Are you satisfied with NATO’s self-defense capabilities against enemy missile attacks?” 

CAPTAIN LIPPS:  Andrea, absolutely.  And if I can expound perhaps a little bit more on answering one of your previous questions with regards to an elaboration of the live-fire events that we’ve demonstrated as an Alliance, kinetically or – the exercise officially started on the 8th of May, but that’s not necessarily a fair representation because this really started (inaudible) of the 25th of April (inaudible) surface action groups that I had referenced before operating off the coast of Norway and in the North Atlantic off the coast of Scotland.  These groups were integrated with the ground-based High Mobility Artillery Rocket System units, the HIMARS, the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS, and allied aircraft that are based throughout Northern Europe, in and over the maritime domain, and it was truly a joint and combined endeavor.  

The – Norway’s Andøya Space Range was the central focus of this first week, and on the 8th of May we conducted a simultaneous harpoon attack against a target barge about a hundred miles at sea and operating well within the Arctic Circle, providing for unique operational elements for ships and aircraft operating in those latitudes.   

But the joint and multi-nature domain of the exercise was further emphasized when we consider the geography of Norway, the satellite look angles that we were having to use to employ communications across both surface action groups, the integration with our land and air forces amongst the sea forces to generate a total combat capability in light of the scenario that was being portrayed. 

After a successful weekend in Andøya, then we closed the forces together off the coast of the Hebrides and continued with a series of very high-end ballistic missile-tracking supersonic engagements and subsonic engagements.   

So as that is the backdrop to answer your first question of more, greater fidelity on the live-fire event, then I would spiral into the addressal of your previous question.  It is the campaign is designed to demonstrate powerful deterrence and defense against all peers that may loom on the horizon.  And so I don’t think it’s necessarily a demonstration of capabilities against one adversary as much as it’s a demonstration of integration and the Alliance’s ability to effectively and coherently provide for deterrence and defense as an Alliance.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  And now we’ll turn to a question from Christopher Woody from Business Insider, who asks:  “Can you give more details about the exercise involving HIMARS and the significance of the capabilities displayed during that drill?” 

REAR ADMIRAL MORLEY:  So, Andrea, just to start the answer then, we’ve been on a journey with these exercises that have, as we said at the beginning, have occurred every two years to increasingly integrate the land and air domains into what was previously a singularly maritime-focused event.  So the aim with bringing U.S. HIMARS and other similar capabilities into the exercise is to further improve the integration of maritime, land, and air systems across a common network.   

So we’re joining sensors that are – that are fitted to platforms and, in the case of this exercise, ships and aircraft and land-based systems.  So we’re connecting sensors with weapons systems, or effectors, over a network.  So the integration of HIMARS, of course, is really important here because what we want to do is coordinate and synchronize the effect that you can generate with a HIMARS rocket system into, in this case, a maritime-focused activity.  So it’s a really important element of what we’re trying to do with the direction of travel of this exercise. 

To go into specifics, I’ll go to Jon.   

CAPTAIN LIPPS:  So it’s a great question, and when we looked at the integration of the Marine Corps forces, I think what’s important is the flexibility that the (inaudible) of the combat teams that the Navy and the Marines bring together.  And that’s agnostic of the flag that is being flown, because there were U.S. Marines that were at sea and there were also Spanish marines that were at sea.  In the case of the U.S. Marines (inaudible) a small chain, they were subsequently used (inaudible).  In the scenario off the coast of Andøya, they were deployed in shore from a small boat.  They provided locating information to the force of a target at sea.  This target was subsequently designated as hostile by my staff in accordance with our rules of engagement and the parameters associated with the live-fire rehearsal.  Upon the declaration of that surface contact or that target being declared hostile, it was subsequently engaged by the U.S. Marine Corps HIMARS batteries that had previously been deployed into Norway and were operating on land. 

And so going back to the admiral’s point, that shows that seamless integration and the power that the architecture brings linking the land, sea, and air forces together in a cohesive combat capability.  Over.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much for that.  And now I’ll take a question from Oskar Górzyński from the Polish Press Agency.  Oskar asks:  “It’s been revealed that in December, a Russian nuclear-capable but apparently unarmed cruise missile strayed into the territory of Poland, apparently undeterred by any Polish air defense system.  U.S. and Polish jets were scrambled in response to that incident.  What’s your reaction to that, and does that worry you?” 

CAPTAIN LIPPS:  Andrea, this is Jon Lipps again.  I’m sorry, I was – I’m not tracking the date.  Can you reference the question again, please?  

MODERATOR:  Sure.  “It’s been revealed that in December, a Russian nuclear-capable but apparently unarmed cruise missile strayed into the territory of Poland, apparently undeterred by any Polish air defense system.  U.S. and Polish jets were scrambled in response to that incident.  What’s your reaction to that, and does that worry you?” 

REAR ADMIRAL MORLEY:  So I think, Andrea – thanks very much.  I think I won’t comment specifically about that incident.  I think what I would say, though, of course, is that that incident (inaudible) just reaffirms the importance of what we’re doing here, which is about building capacity and capability and credibility in integrating air and missile defense.  The fact that this is a threat that is not going away, sadly, and of course what’s going on in the world right now, particularly in Ukraine, just further serves to reinforce the point that this is a live area of warfare development and it’s really important that both Allies and partners continue to evolve and to develop our capacity to bring forces together to counter the threat effectively. 

So I think I’m not going to comment on that specific incident and about how – whether or not we are actually in a tactical sense deterring every single incident, I think that the incident that the journalist describes just further reinforces the importance of the mission here and the mission set.  Over.   

MODERATOR:  Excellent.  Thank you so much.  Unfortunately, that’s all the time that we have today for questions.  I’d like to thank you, thank all the journalists for their questions, and thank you, Rear Admiral Morley and Captain Lipps, for joining us.  Before we close the call, I’d like to see if you have any final remarks for our journalists.   

REAR ADMIRAL MORLEY:  Andrea, no, I’m – I feel that we’ve only just gotten going with the questions before we drew this to a close, so I’m sorry if people had questions and they didn’t – you didn’t get around to them.  I’m sure both the Media Hub and our own media team would be delighted to take any other questions in a written format and provide answers offline.  But I’m very grateful to all the participants, all the journalists who joined us.  (Inaudible) as one of our key objectives, and as is had it in a transparent way, describing precisely what we’ve been doing and why, and I hope we’ve been able to convey some of that to you this afternoon.  Over.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  Shortly we’ll send the audio recording of this briefing to all participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it’s available.  We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at  Thanks again for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another press briefing soon.  This ends today’s briefing.   

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U.S. Department of State

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