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HIMARS in the High North: U.S. Marines With Task Force 61/2 Conduct Exercise Formidable Shield 2023

Hiking close to 2,000 feet above sea level through snow and ice in northern Norway, a team from Task Force 61/2’s Commander, Task Group (CTG) 61/2.4 (MRC), loaded down with five days of man-packed mission-essential gear and provisions, took their positions.

The team was charged with conducting surveillance and providing targeting data for U.S. High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and Norwegian National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) units, as they worked together to counter a simulated threat at sea. They were employed as a cueing asset for targeting, providing tracks and locations of vessels to adjacent reconnaissance forces and Task Force 61/2 of potential offshore targets.

As they watched on, their fellow Marines brought Force Design concepts to life with the simultaneous engagement of an offshore target with two HIMARS during exercise Formidable Shield 2023.

“We’ve proven the concept of how efficiently, and for the first time, we can employ a man-portable radar team, coming up here filling in that kill-chain for maritime domain awareness,” said Sgt. Kyle Rolain, a platoon sergeant with MRC.

During Formidable Shield, Task Force 61/2 assumed tactical control of numerous units beyond their organic CTG 61/2.4 (Mobile Reconnaissance Company) and CTG 61/2.5 (Force Reconnaissance Company), incorporating elements from Marine Air Control Squadron 2, 2d Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, and 8th Communications Battalion. The Task Force integrated Allied units into their operations, as well.

“Task Force 61/2 directed and unified the efforts of the U.S. Marines, a U.S. Destroyer, a Dutch Frigate, and Norwegian NASAMS to engage both surface and airborne threats targeting the NATO task group,” said Task Force 61/2 Air Officer, Maj. Christopher Herlihy. This collaboration, “ensured elements could rapidly pass tracking and targeting data and defend fleet assets in a joint environment.”

Along with enabling strikes against surface targets, Formidable Shield 2023 also enhanced Task Force 61/2’s ability to direct Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) systems. Inside the Tactical Air Operations Center (TAOC), all the coordination of multi-domain awareness is routed, to include fires and surveillance.

1st Lt. Caleb Johnson, an air defense control officer and Company XO, Air Defense Company A, underscored the capacity and capability this integration and training provided to the Task Force 61/2 team.

“As a weapons director in the TAOC during Formidable Shield 2023, we provide a picture and a sensor capability that we can cue shooters in the battlespace to take out targets.”

Johnson, deployed in the area of operations with his unit out of Cherry Point, shares “we’ve had a unique experience in bringing our AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) system up here in the High North, providing sensors capabilities to Norwegian air defense units, probably one of the first times we have done this.”

Launching from U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79), initial reconnaissance forces from Force Reconnaissance Company visually acquired the offshore target. Working in the TAOC, Herlihy observed that, “recon forces were the first to provide the CTG visual identification and the coordinates of a target barge using their organic small UAS systems.” This information was passed from the TAOC back to Oscar Austin and out to the Spanish Frigate Blas de Lezo, initiating confirmation and joint pursuit of targets.

Meanwhile, back on land, U.S. HIMARS and Norwegian NASAMS received firing guidance from the TAOC, with information collected from the various multi-domain sensing force capabilities, allowing them to prosecute targets from the ground with HIMARS long-range precision fires and Norwegian NASAMS air-denial fires.

1st Lt. Joe Goff, a platoon commander with H Battery, 2/10, stood ready to complete the kill-chain with a HIMARS engagement. He knew his team was ready and in prime position for a successful engagement.

“Emplacing the platoon in an advantageous area that allows the communication within the platoon, local security team, higher forces at the TAOC and adjacent Norwegian Army NASAMs is crucial,” said Goff. This position enabled his platoon to “execute fire missions without being sensed or picked up on radars from an adversary force.”

These kinds of high-end, multinational live-fire engagements are the cornerstone of the Formidable Shield series. As nations and militaries continue to train through complex live-fire scenarios under the exercise, they improve not only their own individual tactics, techniques, and procedures, but those of their joint and combined units as well.

“The integration with the Norwegians has showed how we as a Marine Corps have progressed ourselves in support of operations with more nations and assets…providing more effectiveness against our adversaries,” said Goff.

Formidable Shield 2023 provided Task Force 61/2 the perfect opportunity to prove and improve capabilities in a dynamic environment such as the High North, as well, a region that the Norwegian Armed Forces knows well. Learning from those who have experience operating in harsh conditions pays dividends not only during exercises, but in steady-state operations alongside like-minded nations as well.

"My favorite part about this exercise is to test what we have been training for all year, to have the live fire exercise, and see how everything works from start to finish", said Norwegian Army Sgt. Erling Anthonessen, NASAMS crew chief, Norwegian Air Defense Battery, “Working with our NATO partners is always exciting for our units here in the ground and allows us to check our integrated systems and better prepare for anything and together be stronger."

Herlihy echoed the importance of integration like this among Allies and partners, as Formidable Shield 2023 participants look forward to the next iteration in this series.

“Integration with our NATO partners was a great success,” said Herlihy. He heartily stated that, “this sets the bar for future joint naval integration exercises with U.S. Marine forces.”

TF 61/2 aligns deployed forces under the Naval Amphibious Force commander; deployed amphibious ready groups (ARG), Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU), Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team, Europe (FASTEUR), and multi-domain sensing forces. TF 61/2 is deployed in NAVEUR’s area of responsibility, employed by U.S. Sixth Fleet to support U.S., allied, and partner interests.

Formidable Shield is a biennial, integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) exercise involving a series of live-fire events against subsonic and supersonic targets, incorporating multiple Allied ships, ground forces, and aviation forces working across battlespaces to deliver effects. Formidable Shield demonstrates Alliance cohesion, cutting-edge capacity and capability, and NATO Allies’ combined commitment to the deterrence and defense of NATO territory.

Task Force 61/2 Communication Strategy and Operations will post imagery on TF 61/2’s Defense Visual Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS) page, accessible using the link below.