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US Army Multi-Domain Task Force tests high-altitude sensing balloons in Norway

US Army MLRS long-range fires with high altitude balloons
US Army photo of “Lorraine 1918”, a multiple launcher rocket system, during a rehearsal during the Thunder Cloud live-fire exercise in Andoya, Norway Sept. 15, 2021. The MLRS received coordinates gathered from high-altitude balloons to deliver long-range precision fires.

The US Army recently tested high-altitude balloons, sensor to shooter capabilities, and long-range precision fires to experiment with new warfighting methods during an exercise in Norway.

2nd Multi-Domain Task Force (MDTF), US Army Europe and Africa, and 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Field Artillery Brigade converged with allies and partners to test and expand modernization efforts between September 9 and 20 during exercise Thunder Cloud.

Thunder Cloud was the first exercise of its kind and the first of the newly activated 2nd MDTF.

“[Thunder Cloud] is about three things: modernization, partnership, and readiness…part of multi-domain operations is finding the new sensor’s best shooter, so this asset here is a unique way to conduct targeting,” Lt. Col. Dave Henderson, commander, 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Field Artillery Brigade said.

“Operating in the High North gives us a great opportunity to exercise with our allies, partners, and other services. Thunder Cloud is important to [the High North] specifically because we are looking to operationalize the stratosphere,” Col. Samuel Ybarra, G3, US Army Europe and Africa said.

Commercial partners, like Raven Aerostar, enabled modernization efforts across the force by providing new technology to the US Army.

Raven Aerostar provided high-altitude balloons, and launched the balloons into the stratosphere as a coordination effort for data on weather patterns and targeting coordinates.

“[2nd Multi-Domain Task Force] brings a series of capabilities that span land, air, sea and space. We are out here to experiment in a cross-domain live-fire exercise,” Lt. Col. Nicholas Stout, 2nd Multi-Domain Task Force-Europe said.

Two of the domains, land and space, were explored during Thunder Cloud and included the concept of long-range precision fires and high-altitude balloons. Integration of organic long range precision fires highlighted technology modernization efforts to develop fire strategies across NATO forces.

The exercise prioritized future advancements within US Army field artillery units and long-range precision fires.

Andøya Space and the Norwegian military hosted the US Army effort by facilitating location and support on the ground. Collaboration between Andøya Space, Norwegian military and the 2nd Multi-Domain Task Force-Europe allowed the US Army to modernize its tactics and warfighting capabilities.

“Andøya Space Defence has had the great pleasure to plan and execute a complex and challenging operation in Northern Norway with both our US friends and Andøya airbase. The operation has been a success from our view, and there have also been important learning points,” Tony Martin Klæboe, Andøya Space project manager said.