Home Americas US bringing supersonic sea skimming targets to missile defense drill off Scotland

US bringing supersonic sea skimming targets to missile defense drill off Scotland

AML 43K launcher with GQM-163 Coyote target missile
US Navy photo of the modified AML 43K launcher that will launch GQM-163 Coyote missile targets for the upcoming 2021 At Sea Demonstration/Formidable Shield Exercise exercise.

The US Navy will introduce a new feature to the long-running international missile defense drill off Scotland in the form of supersonic sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missile targets.

A new launcher that will launch the GQM-163 Coyote targets will be a first for the Formidable Shield exercise that will be attended by 10 nations and take place between May 15 and June 3.

There will be 15 ships, more than 10 aircraft, and approximately 3,300 personnel participating this year. Spanish Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate ESPS Cristóbal Colón (F-105) is this year’s designated flag ship for the execution of Exercise At-Sea Demonstration/Formidable Shield 2021.

Taking place at the Hebrides Range off Scotland’s coast and at Andøya Space Defense off Norway’s coast, Formidable Shield is an interactive exercise in which military forces are challenged with numerous targets and threats at sea, and work together to defend against air and missile attacks.

The US Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) NSWC PHD is partnering with navy commanders of the US Sixth Fleet to introduce the new targets.

“The intended goal is to exercise integrated air and missile defense in a live-fire scenario where you have actual targets attacking the ships and defending regions themselves, and the ships will launch weapons and missiles against those to negate them,” said Eric Hedlund, target working group co-chair with the Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS). “We have different scenarios and different capabilities that are being demonstrated between all the allied nations that are participating out there.”

The new launcher will launch GQM-163 Coyote supersonic sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missile targets as a new addition to the exercise this year. The navy said the idea for the launcher first began as a sketch on a napkin—by a team from NSWC PHD’s White Sands Missile Range Detachment (WSMR) to modify the AML 4K3 launcher built in the late 1960s for the purpose of launching GQM-163 Coyote missile targets during the Formidable Shield exercise.

NSWC PHD has been participating in the robust exercise since 2015, which occurs biennially on odd-numbered years. This year, the warfare center will have a key role providing five US targets, including two T4-Bs, two GQM-163 Coyotes and one Pathfinder Zombie.

“Every year, it (MTMD-F) tries to do something more challenging with the combined (allied) navies, and this year, it specifically wanted to do a presentation of supersonic sea-skimming cruise missiles, and the US is one of the few countries that has a supersonic sea-skimming missile target, which is the GQM-163 Coyote,” said John Winstead, senior advisor at NSWC PHD’s White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) Detachment in New Mexico.

“As far as I know, this will be one of the few instances in which the forum has taken this target overseas and fired it on location outside a Continental United States range or a US-owned range.”

Although T4-Bs have flown at the Hebrides Range in the past, the GQM-163 Coyote and the Pathfinder Zombie targets are new to the range, according to Hedlund.

Also, Hedlund said because the Hebrides Range normally isn’t equipped to handle new targets, the team took on the additional challenge of delivering certain components of the WSMR to Hebrides to successfully fly the targets.

“The Hebrides Range doesn’t have a lot of infrastructures built up like WSMR does, so we are bringing elements of the WSMR to the Hebrides for flight safety and display,” Hedlund explained, such as its new GQM-163 Coyote slug launcher.

According to Winstead, the White Sands team first verified and tested the Coyote slug launchers at WSMR to ensure the launcher would function as planned before sending it to the Hebrides Range.

“We did two slug—partially functional flight vehicles—launches to make sure we understood the characterization of the launcher and the way it behaves when it’s used under firing conditions and that all the subsystems worked the way we expected them to and didn’t have to be corrected,” Winstead explained. “We then had to tear it down and box it up and send it to Scotland and get it all back installed, and confirm correct operation with work that the Scottish and the United Kingdom did to put in infrastructure at Hebrides Range.”

Along with providing the infrastructure and targets, three US Navy destroyers as well as a dry cargo/ammunitions ship from the East Coast will also take part in the exercises at the Hebrides Range.

In total, about 4,000 people will participate in Formidable Shield, up from the 3,000 who participated in the prior exercise.