Missile defense is an increasingly essential part of any nation’s military infrastructure as ballistic and cruise missiles become a more prevalent facet of modern combat operations, and aggressive nations inch closer to developing and fielding fully capably nuclear weapons.

Among the NATO allies, there are multiple disparate systems and platforms capable of supporting the missile defense enterprise, but until recently, these various systems had never worked together in unison to engage multiple inbound targets at sea.

With looming concerns about Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, NATO has long been working on developing a great level of interoperability across the various military forces within the alliance. And while interpersonal and cultural challenges are among the ones being addressed, the digital divide has proven to be a far greater obstacle. Defense systems developed independently from one another have a difficult time communicating even within the armed forces of a single nation, let alone across nations.

But thanks to a new shared alliance network, NATO was able to leverage the capabilities of a 13-ship task force — hailing from Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, U.K. and the U.S. — for missile defense.

The system merged tactical information gleaned from various sensors using NATO’s Air Command and Control System, to coordinate movements and provide direction to ship-based and ground-based assets in the region. Then an Aster 15 missile was deployed from a French Frigate to engage one inbound missile, while an Evolved Sea Sparrow missile was deployed by a Royal Canadian Navy vessel to intercept the other. Both intercepts marked the first time either nation’s navy had managed such a feat. The mock missiles were launched from F-16s hailing from U.S. Air Forces Europe, and were reportedly AQM-37 supersonic target drones.

Some of the land-based elements of the drill were simulated, including the launch of SM3 BlockIIA missiles from Aegis Ashore systems at the inbound ballistic targets. While this portion of the exercise didn’t prove the efficacy of the Aegis Ashore system specifically, the simulated training gave ship- and shore-based personnel the opportunity to work together in a live fire drill for the first time.

“As we look for opportunities to expand our network of partnerships, we need to take care that our partners and allies can operate in our networks,” Kevin Gillis of the Navy’s Integrated Warfare Systems told the American Society of Naval Engineers.

“This is a trend that’s here to stay and it’s confirmed by the number of cooperative deployments occurring with our allies …this is a key to success in the ‘fight tonight’ ethos our combatant commanders practice today.”

By being able to coordinate defensive operations in such a manner, NATO commanders will be able to better leverage the various tools brought into the fight from different nations’ militaries, thus bringing NATO closer to being able to serve as a unified military force in a high-level conflict — if ever one were to arise.

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