The US Navy’s top sub-hunting plane conducted a first-of-its-kind missile launch in Europe’s high north

Navy P-8A Poseidon Harpoon missile
A US Navy P-8A during At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield, May 31, 2021.

  • US Navy P-8A Poseidons launched Harpoon missiles in Europe for the first time last month.
  • The launches, part of an exercise off northern Norway, are the latest military activity in the increasingly busy waters of the Arctic.
  • Officials stressed the defensive focus and said it wasn’t conducted with a specific foe in mind.
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US Navy P-8A Poseidons launched AGM-84D Harpoon missiles in Europe for the first time last month during an exercise off of northern Norway, another sign of the increasing military focus on the strategically important region.

The P-8s, widely considered the best maritime patrol planes in operation, launched the missiles at a target barge near the Andøya Space Defense facility in northern Norway during the exercise At-Sea Demonstration/Formidable Shield.

The exercise focused on missile defense and most used during it were surface-to-air interceptors, but the Harpoons – so named because they were first designed to target surfaced submarines, or “whales” – were air-to-surface variants.

As an anti-ship missile, the Harpoon gives the P-8 “the ability to challenge enemy naval movements, either in support of offensive operations or in order to defend friendly forces,” the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet said in a release.

Navy P-8A Poseidon Harpoon missile
A P-8 Poseidon conducts the first successful coordinated P-8 Harpoon launch in Sixth Fleet history, May 31, 2021.

“At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield provided a realistic opportunity to exercise” the Poseidon’s ability to “project lethal fires,” Cmdr. Kyle Raines, Sixth Fleet public affairs officer, told Insider in a statement.

At a briefing before the exercise, which is held every other year, officials stressed the defensive focus and said it wasn’t conducted with a specific foe in mind.

US Navy Capt. Jonathan Lipps, who directed the exercise, said it wasn’t “targeted against a specific country or threat” but had evolved in response to state and non-state actors’ use of drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles.

“It’s about protecting both maritime units and the land environment from the missile threat, not about, if you like, offensive missile capabilities. It’s about defensive missile capability,” said British Royal Navy Rear Adm. James Morley, deputy commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, which conducted the exercise.

This year’s iteration was “the most complex joint and combined integrated air- and missile-defense exercise ever conducted at sea,” Lipps said.

Norway Norwegian Navy frigate Evolved Sea-Sparrow-Missiles
Norwegian frigate Fridtjof Nansen launched Evolved Sea-Sparrow-Missiles during At-Sea-Demo/Formidable Shield 2021, May 21, 2021.

The missiles used during the exercise were “a good example of a growing recognition” that successful combat operations in the future will “require close coordination of offensive and defensive systems,” said Ian Williams, deputy director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“There are a lot of efficiencies that can be gained by integrating strike and defense, particularly in sensors, to detect enemy missiles and to locate and neutralize the shooter,” Williams told Insider in an email.

There are also more practical reasons to fire Harpoons from P-8s.

Like its predecessor, the P-3 Orion, the Poseidon “has an anti-surface-warfare mission, and the Harpoon missile is the current armament that meets that requirement, so it is not a surprise that the aircraft is exercising that capability,” said Steve Wills, a military historian and expert on US Navy strategy.

“Every naval platform has live-fire exercise requirements, so this firing could be one of those,” Wills added in an email.

‘Credible threats’

Royal Navy French navy FS Forbin
A British Royal Navy aircraft above French frigate FS Forbin during At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield 2021, May 27, 2021.

Morley and Lipps both emphasized that At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield – which began near Scotland and concluded around Andøya – was long-planned and preceded by notice about where it would take place, but comes as military activity in the region increases significantly.

In late 2018, NATO conducted exercise Trident Juncture in and around Norway. Some 50,000 personnel took part in the exercise, which saw a US aircraft carrier sail into the Arctic for the first time since the early 1990s. The US military has been more active in Norway in recent months.

NATO navies have also conducted exercises in the Barents Sea, close to major Russian military installations, for the first time in decades.

Russia, which has the world’s longest Arctic coastline, has been increasing its presence in the region, refurbishing bases and deploying more forces. Its Nordic neighbors have been concerned by its military tests in the region, particularly with weapons like the Kalibr cruise missile.

Navy destroyer SM-3 missile
US Navy destroyer USS Paul Ignatius fired a Standard Missile-3 interceptor during At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield, May 26, 2021.

The Kalibr gives Russian ships and subs a land-attack capability that worries NATO. The Kalibr and other Russian weapons fired from the Barents Sea would be able to reach targets in Norway.

Russian submarine activity around the Norwegian Sea has also concerned NATO countries, particularly Norway and the UK, which have both purchased P-8s to patrol their waters.

At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield concluded on June 4 and navies involved touted several achievements during it.

A US destroyer and a Dutch frigate worked together to “negate” a ballistic missile threat in what the US Navy called “a groundbreaking cooperative engagement.” Norway’s navy said one of its frigates used a missile to down a target moving at supersonic speed for the first time. The British navy tested artificial intelligence against live missiles at sea, also for the first time.

The exercise “unquestionably demonstrates” NATO’s ability to defend its “integrity and resolve against credible threats from the ocean depths to low-earth orbit,” Lipps said in a statement.

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The Marines actually sank a moving ship when they test-fired a Navy missile from a truck for the first time

Naval Strike Missile
The Naval Strike Missile is operational on land and at sea.

  • Last month, the Marine Corps announced the first test of a system that launches Naval Strike Missiles from a modified vehicle.
  • This month, the Corps’ top officer said that groundbreaking test actually sank a ship sailing off the coast of California.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Marine Corps took out a moving ship by firing a Navy missile at it from the back of an unmanned vehicle on land – a new weapon the service’s top general says will make “an adversary think twice.”

Commandant Gen. David Berger revealed new details about a groundbreaking test announced last month in which Marines in California used a deadly new system to take out a threat at sea.

Known as NMESIS, the Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System can launch naval strike missiles from the back of a modified Joint Light Tactical Vehicle to destroy targets.

Berger said the Marines testing the system were able to sink a ship on the move near California. The Marine Corps’ top priority in the 2022 budget, he added, will be ground-based anti-ship missiles.

“A very successful test,” the commandant said Thursday during the annual McAleese defense conference. “… That’s conventional deterrence because that’s a capability that makes an adversary think twice.”

The Marine Corps is undergoing massive reform after two decades of ground warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. Berger’s Force Design 2030 plans call for the service to ditch heavy legacy equipment, such as tanks, to prepare for lighter, naval-based missions. The plan is largely centered around threats Chinese forces pose to the US military.

Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System
The Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System can launch Naval Strike Missiles from a modified Joint Light Tactical Vehicle at land or sea targets.

Emanuel “Manny” Pacheco, a spokesman for Marine Corps Systems Command, said the missile flew an attack path “that exceeded 90 nautical miles before impacting the target.”

He declined to provide details on additional tests, but said others have been successful.

“The Marine Corps is investing in technologies and capabilities to modernize the Corps and ensure we maintain our competitive edge,” Pacheco added.

Berger said Thursday that Marines will have to support the Navy not only with anti-surface missions to take out enemy ships, but submarines too. The Marine Corps will need to step up to help control straits and other maritime avenues the US and its partners and allies need open, he added.

“Littoral warfare is where you expect the Marine Corps to come on strong, and that’s where we’re headed,” he said.

Tanks and short-range towed artillery pieces aren’t a good fit for Marines to meet future threats. Instead, Berger said, they’ll need long-range fires and light amphibious warships.

“We are reorienting from a ground, sustained land-forces mode – which we’ve had to do for the nation for the past 20 years – into a naval expeditionary maritime mode,” he said.

– Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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Navy photos show a patrol plane armed with anti-ship missiles in the Middle East

Navy P-8A Poseidon AGM-84 Harpoon missile
Sailors load an AGM-84 Harpoon missile onto a P-8A Poseidon aircraft in the 5th Fleet area of operations, January 15, 2021.

  • A Navy P-8A Poseidon is shown carrying AGM-84D Harpoon missiles in photos taken in January but released this month.
  • It’s not the first time a Poseidon has been spotted with that kind of weapon, but it appears to be the first time a P-8 in the Persian Gulf has been seen with it.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The US Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft have started flying missions in the US 5th Fleet AOR (Area of Operations) carrying AGM-84D Harpoon missiles.

Images just released by the naval service through the DVIDS network show sailors assigned to the “Fighting Tigers” of Patrol Squadron 8, deployed with Commander, Task Force (CTF) 57, performing preflight checks on AGM-84 Harpoon missiles carried by a P-8A of VP-8 ahead of a mission in the US 5th Fleet area of operations (that encompasses the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean) on January 15-16, 2021.

While the location where the images were taken has not been disclosed, it seems quite likely that the P-8A was being serviced at its usual deployment base in Manama, Bahrain, where P-3 Orion and Poseidon aircraft supporting CTF-57 are usually based.

CTF-57 is the maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft Task Force for the US 5th Fleet, Naval Forces Central Command, and Combined Maritime Forces.

CTF-57 aircraft conduct missions in support of maritime operations to ensure stability, security, and the free flow of commerce in the Central Command area of responsibility, which connects the Mediterranean and Pacific through the Western Indian Ocean.

Navy P-8A Poseidon
A P-8A Poseidon on a flight line in the 5th Fleet area of operations, January 16, 2021.

The AGM-84D Harpoon is an anti-ship missile that complements the Mk 54 air-launched lightweight torpedo, used for ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) mission.

It’s obviously not the first time the Poseidon is spotted carrying this kind of weapon, although it’s the first time we see this armament on a P-8 deployed to the Persian Gulf area.

We don’t know where the Poseidon with its live Harpoon payload flew after the shots were taken.

The P-8s are a common presence in the Persian Gulf area, where they have often been tracked by means of their Mode-S transponders. However, they also extend their patrols to the Gulf of Oman and to the Horn of Africa, where they support anti-piracy operations.

Still, considered when the image was taken (mid-January, a period of intense Iranian naval activity in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz), it seems more likely that that kind of weaponry was loaded to deter any kind of attack against US Navy warships and commercial traffic in the area.

In fact, the US has maintained a significant naval presence in region consistently since May 2019, as a hedge against Iran. Since then, a carrier strike group has been positioned in the Gulf round-the-clock, with few gaps in presence.

At the beginning of February, USS Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and embarked Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (with its F-35Bs) transited the Strait of Hormuz to operate in the Persian Gulf replacing USS Nimitz, after supporting Operation Octave Quartz off the coast of Somalia.

Navy P-8A Poseidon AGM-84 Harpoon missile
A sailor preforms a preflight check on an AGM-84 Harpoon missile on a P-8A Poseidon aircraft in the US 5th Fleet area of operations, January 16, 2021.

P-8As are maritime patrol aircraft but even when they are not loaded with anti-ship missiles or toperdos, they carry a wide array of sensors that give the aircraft the ability to operate in the ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) battlespace. Here’s what we have already explained in a previous article here at The Aviationist:

[…] the P-8s are multi-mission platforms that can gather valuable intelligence using a wide array of sensors. Among these, an Advanced Airborne Sensor (a dual-sided AESA radar that can offer 360-degree scanning on targets on land or coastal areas, and which has potential applications as a jamming or even cyberwarfare platform according to Northrop Grumman); an APY-10 multi-mode synthetic aperture radar; an MX-20 electro-optical/infrared turret for shorter-range search; and an ALQ-240 Electronic Support Measure (ESM) suite, able to geo-locate and track enemy radar emitters. Moreover, all sensors contribute to a single fused tactical situation display, which is then shared over both military standard and internet protocol data links, allowing for seamless delivery of information amongst U.S. and coalition forces.

In that respect, the P-8A Poseidon represents a huge leap forward if compared to the P-3 Orion. For instance, the externally mounted AP/ANY-10 MTI imaging radar system (upgrade from the P-3’s Littoral Surveillance Radar System – LSRS), adds both an overland and maritime MTI capability approaching the fidelity provided by the US Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS). The significant difference with the more modern P-3s is, in particular, in the P-8’s ability to rapidly exchange and share information internally among the crew and externally among joint partners.

H/T Ryan Chan for the heads-up!

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