Formidable Shield 2023 successfully completed in May - but what does that mean and why does it matter to our wider customers?


Jim Graham, Managing Director – UK Defence Air, QinetiQ

I am enormously proud of the fact that we successfully completed one of the world’s largest tests of naval and missile defences in May of this year.

Formidable Shield 23 came to a close with a number of notable ‘firsts’ achieved during the three-week trial. These included the first launch of UK/US funded Guided BMD target, the IAMD-T; the first attempted tracking of a BMD target in the terminal phase by a Typhoon and the first engagement of a subsonic target by a UK Typhoon, cued by a Type 45 destroyer with an air-launch missile.

Hosted at MOD Hebrides, Scotland, which we operate on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, the exercise saw more than 20 ships, 35 aircraft, and nearly 4000 Allied military personnel from 13 NATO nations come together to test missiles, systems, sensors and software against ballistic, subsonic and supersonic targets in a realistic, live-fire mission rehearsal event. It was quite a sight, and was enormously inspiring.

The forces gathered around Andøya, Norway before moving to our MOD Hebrides range to counter a series of subsonic and supersonic targets within a 1000 nautical mile area in the Atlantic Ocean, highlighting how integration between platforms and nations can prove to be critically advantageous within a battlespace.

Very much the theme of this year’s DSEI, the FS23 event also saw true integration across a multi-domain landscape for the first time, with participation from land, naval and air forces, providing an opportunity to work together in a realistic ‘train as you fight’ environment. Feedback from customers was that this opportunity and experience was invaluable, and critical to being truly aligned and battle-ready.

During the event, threats were launched from multiple locations, each with unique capabilities, designed to post realistic threat representation challenges to the multinational force, which were successfully intercepted and countered in a reassuring and impressive integrated defence response. For example, the Italian Navy’s ITS Carlo Margottini engaged and neutralised a supersonic GQM-163A target using an Aster-30 missile. The Dutch, French, and Spanish surface units, including Tromp, French FREMM Bretagne, and exercise flagship Blas De Lezo, intercepted another supersonic GQM-163A launched from the Hebrides. USS Porter and USS Oscar Austin, two US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, also launched five SM-2 missiles during two events against QinetiQ operated subsonic targets.

QinetiQ supported the delivery of the exercise, ensuring the provision of extensive logistical, test and evaluation (T&E) support and responsibility for the safety planning. We also launched a number of Targeting Systems, including the Banshee Jet80+, providing participants with the opportunity to demonstrate interoperability in Integrated Air and Missile Defence scenarios with ballistic missiles, supersonic sea skimming missiles, and aggressor jets as I have outlined.

Our T&E expertise on radar systems, communications systems and tactics assurance, was pivotal in supporting the safe delivery of the event, allowing the participants to gain quality insights and analytics. It was a great success and all the customers involved and the Minister of Defence Procurement, James Cartlidge MP, were extremely positive about the exercises, outcomes and plans for the future. You can hear directly from our customers across the NATO nations, MOD, and Missile Defence Agency within the FS23 film.

So why should this matter to our customers and partners outside of the FS exercise? With QinetiQ’s involvement, FS has evolved significantly over the last eight years and I truly believe it demonstrates that we continue to excel not only as an enduring and reliable partner in the mission-rehearsal defence environment, but with regards to understanding and delivering realistic threat representation for our customers. In addition, our test and evaluation offer, including digital T&E is thorough, wide-ranging and comprehensive giving our customers meaningful analysis and useable data. We have proven we can facilitate and support realistic and holistic integration across domains, key to front-line commands.

As DSEI is discussing, national integration is no longer sufficient to counter the current complex threat landscape, an international integrated approach is needed across allies and partners to consistently improve understanding, enable sustained global reach, and create truly disruptive capabilities. An integrated force can only occur through a trained and practiced workforce, meaningful data, good communication and appropriate and evolving technologies. I hope our FS23 success demonstrates to allied NATO forces, that QinetiQ can provide the support they need across these key areas, with an effective, agnostic, scalable and flexible service offer to meet their complex and evolving needs to continue to be an effective and formidable allied force.

We are looking for both experienced engineers, project managers and talent from across the industry and the next generation of talent to join our QinetiQ Team. If you want to be involved in events and trials such as Formidable Shield, then we want to hear from you. Please look at either our current vacancies page or our Early Careers Portal for more information.

Fleet of ships at sea