U.S. Air National Guard units support 2021 Formidable Shield exercise

  • Published
  • By Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot
  • 185th Air Refueling Wing

U.S. Air National Guard units from Iowa, Maine and Ohio are in the United Kingdom this week participating in multinational missile defense exercise Formidable Shield 2021.

“Formidable Shield” is a biennial, live-fire exercise designed 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 the nations of 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 where they are part of U.S. Air Force and NATO air operations. The nature of air refueling mission allows the air refueling units to conduct their air operations from the Glasgow Prestwick International airport in Prestwick, Scotland.

Major 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 in close proximity to the exercise area of operation.

Jacobs said there are amenities associated with operating from a civilian airport, but she added that the tanker units needed to bring a lot of extra equipment with them in order to ensure continuous operations. She said preparation for the exercise meant traveling with a plane load of support equipment and supplies normally available when operating from a fully functioning military air base.

“It is similar to setting up at a forward operating base,” Jacobs said, when commenting on the weeks of preparation prior to the exercise.

Jacobs said while the objectives of the exercise are key, she added that the opportunity to fly overseas and operate outside of their home environment is also a great learning environment for both new and veteran members of the aircrew.

“It is a very fluid environment,” Jacobs commented, when talking about the need to be able to adjust to sudden changes. “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 located at RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom. The 100th ARW is responsible for providing 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.