NATO Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), Network Centric Warfare and Formidable Shield Exercise

Ballistic missile
Type 45-class destroyer launching ASTER-30 missile

The proliferation of ballistic missiles poses an increasing threat to NATO populations, territory, and forces. Moreover, many countries in NATO’s proximity have ballistic missiles or are trying to develop or acquire them. NATO BMD aims to provide full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territory, and forces against ballistic missiles. It also considers the level of threat, affordability, and technical feasibility and is in accordance with the latest common threat assessments agreed by the Alliance.

NATO BMD is based on voluntary national contributions, including nationally funded interceptors and sensors and hosting arrangements. It is also based on the command-and-control backbone delivered through the NATO BMD Programme. Consequently, only these command-and-control systems are eligible for joint funding.

The United States contributes to NATO BMD through its European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). Turkey is hosting a US BMD radar at Kürecik; Romania is hosting a U.S. Aegis Ashore site at Deveselu Air Base; Germany is hosting the command centre at Ramstein Air Base; and Poland is hosting another Aegis Ashore site, which is currently under construction at the Redzikowo Military Base.

ballistic missile defense
Royal Navy photo

Rota Naval Base is hosting four multi-mission BMD-capable Aegis ships

Additionally, in the context of the EPAA, Spain is hosting four multi-mission BMD-capable Aegis ships at its naval base in Rota, which are ready to support the NATO BMD mission, if required. Furthermore, several Allies currently offer further ground-based air and missile defence systems (such as Patriot or SAMP/T) or complementary ships as force protection of other BMD assets.

NATO BMD system uses networked sensors and interceptors that provide a layered defence. It calculates the missile trajectory, evaluates the threat, and determines the best option for interception. Once the danger is pinpointed, the best-suited interceptor launches from sea or land to neutralize the attacking missile.

It can be considered that NATO BMD is one of the successful applications of network-centric warfare. The tactical picture, which is created to evaluate the information coming from the sensors deployed on land, sea, and space in a gradual defence approach, is shared with the relevant operations centres. As a result of the evaluation, the most appropriate interceptor is engaged with the threat.

AN/SPY-1 Radar is the critical component of the Aegis BMD

The ships deployed by the USA in the context of EPAA have an essential role in both detecting and engaging ballistic missiles. U.S. ships have Aegis BMD systems. AN/SPY-1 Radar is the critical component of the Aegis BMD system manufactured by Lockheed Martin. The passive electronic scanning system is computer-controlled, using four complementary antennas to provide full 360-degree coverage. It is a multi-function phased-array radar capable of search, automatic detection, transition to track, tracking of air and surface targets, and missile engagement support. Another component of the Aegis system, the Raytheon Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), provides a hit to kill upper layer defense capability.

BMD does not just consist of American ships at sea. The ships from the other NATO member countries can be accepted as natural members of the BMD. However, due to the ships having different systems, testing the interoperability, enhancing the cooperation between ships with other systems, and developing the relevant tactics, exercises need to be planned and conducted.

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AEGIS BMD Description released in 2012

Formidable Shield most enormous and complex air and missile exercise

To achieve the goals mentioned above, NATO regularly conducts the Formidable Shield exercise, which is Europe’s most enormous and most complex air and missile exercise. It is designed to improve allied interoperability and capabilities. This year it was performed at the U.K. Ministry of Defence’s Hebrides Range in the vicinity of the Western Isles of Scotland between 15 May-02 June. It runs for three weeks and carries out live-fire Integrated Air & Missile Defence activity, with more than 15 ships, ten aircraft, and around 3,300 military personnel from around the world taking part.

In the exercise, U.S. Navy Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Ignatius (DDG 117) and the Royal Netherlands Navy’s air defence command frigate HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën (F802) conducted a cooperative engagement of a live medium-range ballistic target using a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor launched from Paul Ignatius.

formidable shield
US destroyer PAUL IGNATIUS DDG117 firing the SM-3 missile

According to a story release issued by the Royal Netherlands Navy, Dutch frigate De Zeven Provinciën detected and tracked ballistic missile with Thales-made SMART-L radar and relayed the target information to USS Paul Ignatius. As a result, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer intercepts the ballistic missile with SM-3 surface-to-air missile with the remote assistance of De Zeven Provinciën. This event marked a significant milestone in the scientific effort to integrate allied space sensors into NATO BDM, comprising rigorous engineering efforts between several countries and significant contributions from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

A milestone event in the U.S.- Europe cooperation

his event is a critical milestone in the U.S.- Europe cooperation in defending against incoming ballistic missiles. SMART-L MM’s capability to detect ballistic missiles and Dutch De Zeven-class frigates’ ability to relay information continuously to Arleigh Burke-class destroyers is a new level of cooperation. Because ballistic missiles cruise fast (in this event, the intercepted missile’s speed was 14.000 km/h), engaging B.M.s with information based on another ship’s sensor is a successful application of network-centric warfare application. In addition to the successful cooperation of NATO countries, this capability will relieve the U.S. about out of atmosphere surveillance issues. Another breakthrough progress in the exercise is to use artificial intelligence algorithms in the engagement process.

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HNLMS De Zeven Provincien


The BMD is one of NATO’s core missions. In a complex operational environment where ballistic missile capabilities are developing daily, and the threat level is increasing, it is essential to include naval forces’ detection and engagement capabilities in the BMD architecture. Lessons learned from the Formidable Shield exercise proved that surface platforms equipped with advanced sensors, surface-to-air missiles, data link capabilities, and artificial intelligence algorithms used in the decision-making process are a significant part of BMD.

Check out Naval Library App to find out the specifications of the De Zeven Provincien class frigates.

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