The U.S. led exercise tested NATO countries integrated anti-ship and ballistic missile defence capabilities and involved the navies of Canada, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the US Navy. This was one of the most sophisticated and complex air and missile exercises ever undertaken in the UK.
The exercise used the MOD Hebrides Range in West Scotland and was held over a huge area in the Atlantic Ocean - more than 1,500km west of the Scottish Hebrides, and from the south of Ireland to the southern tip of Iceland.
The most impressive part of the exercise involved launching a ballistic missile from the Scottish range, then tracking and shooting down the missile outside of the earth's atmosphere, which was travelling at more than 4km per second, with an American Aegis warship, using an SM-3 missile.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said: 'North Korean tests have shown the danger of rogue states developing longer range missiles. By hosting this cutting-edge exercise in anti-missile defence with allied navies, Britain is at the forefront of developing a more effective response to this growing threat.'
Aircraft involved with Exercise Formidable Shield 2017
Several aircraft took part in the exercise including USAF F-16s (40th Flight Test Squadron, based at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida) which launched AQM-37 Jayhawk target drones, as well as Maritime Patrol Aircraft, and NATO AWACS surveillance aircraft which ensured that the airspace was kept clear. Surveillance aircraft included two highly modified Gulfstream II aircraft which are used to monitor and track missile test launches.
Gulfstream II 'HALO' Aircraft
The two highly modified Gulfstream II aircraft are:- N779LC (HALO4) and N178B (HALO2) which are operated by the 'US Missile Defense Agency'. These aircraft are based on the Gulfstream II American business jet but have been modified by the addition of a large front dorsal fairing, housing the Electro-optical / Infrared Systems (EO/IR) sensors.
These aircraft have a maximum altitude of 45,000ft, a range of 3,000nm and a cruising speed of 460kts. They are powered by two, rather noisy, Rolls Royce Spey engines which have a thrust of 11,400lb each.
Both these aircraft are operated by the 'US Missile Defense Agency' as 'High Altitude Observatory' (HALO) platforms. Their ability to fly at high altitude with good endurance makes these aircraft highly suited to this role.
The photographs of the Gulfstream II 'HALO' aircraft were taken at RAF Mildenhall in October 2017 by Matt Varley.