PRESTWICK, Scotland – U.S. Air National Guard units from Iowa, Maine and Ohio are participating in the multinational missile defense exercise Formidable Shield 2021 in the United Kingdom this week.
Formidable Shield is a biennial live-fire exercise to test participating nations integrated air and missile defense systems using NATO command and control.
The maritime defense exercise, hosted by the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th fleet and the British Royal Navy, covers a large geographical area but is based in the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense Hebrides Range in the Western Isles of Scotland.
Over 3,000 participants from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States are involved in the exercise that will conclude the first week of June. While concentrated in the United Kingdom, the various nations are operating from sea and land locations across Europe.
Three KC-135 air refueling units from Iowa’s 185th Air Refueling Wing, Maine’s 101st ARW and Ohio’s 121st ARW are supporting the exercise as part of U.S. Air Force and NATO air operations. The air refueling units conduct their air operations from the Glasgow Prestwick International airport in Prestwick, Scotland.
Maj. Noelle Jacobs, a pilot with Iowa’s 185th ARW, said staging the air refueling operations at the Prestwick airport also allows the refueling assets to be close to the exercise area of operation.
To prepare for the exercise, Jacobs said the wing brought a planeload of equipment and supplies ordinarily available when operating from a fully functioning military airbase.
“It is similar to setting up at a forward operating base,” Jacobs said.
While the objectives of the exercise are key, Jacobs said the opportunity to fly overseas and operate outside the home environment is great for new and veteran members of the aircrew.
“It is a very fluid environment,” Jacobs said. “For us, this is also an exercise in aviation management.”
The primary mission of the KC-135 is to provide air refueling support for the U.S. military and partner nation aircraft.
The U.S. Air Force has one permanent air refueling component in Europe, the 100th ARW at RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom. The 100th ARW provides air refueling support for the European and African areas of responsibility.
The National Guard refueling support during the exercise helps alleviate additional strain on the active component during large exercises like Formidable Shield. Jacobs said being part of the exercise also demonstrates how fully integrated the National Guard is as part of global operations of the U.S. Air Force.