HMS Lancaster (left), HMS Dragon (middle) and HMS Argyll (right), seen here off Scotland’s Outer Hebrides and Norway’s Arctic coast as part of Exercise Formidable Shield 2021.
HMS Lancaster (left), HMS Dragon (middle) and HMS Argyll (right), off Scotland’s Outer Hebrides as part of Exercise Formidable Shield 2021

A.I. tech trialled during Exercise Formidable Shield

Ministry of Defence
4 min readJun 3, 2021


Exercise Formidable Shield is Europe’s biggest and most complex air and missile exercise. Designed to improve allied interoperability and capabilities, it runs for three weeks and carries out live-fire Integrated Air & Missile Defence activity, with more than 15 ships, 10 aircraft and around 3,300 military personnel from around the world taking part.

As it draws to a close, Dstl Above Water Systems Programme Manager and Chairman NATO EW Policy/Doctrine Panel, Alasdair D Gilchrist, takes us through how Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) technology being trialled for the first time by the Royal Navy at sea during the Exercise could help protect future UK Armed Forces capability.

HMS Dragon a Royal Navy Type 45 destroyer carried out a successful firing of a Sea Viper missile as part of Exercise Formidable Shield

Travelling at hundreds of miles an hour and skimming the sea surface, missiles packed with explosives can destroy or disable a warship, risking the lives of all on board. As well as their sophisticated guidance systems for manoeuvrability, missiles have an array of complex electronic homing techniques designed to hamper ship defences and confuse the radar operators tracking threats. Operators are subject to great strain, staring at a screen for up to six hours; it requires intensive human concentration, even with break periods.

Image of AI technology

Over the last 10 years the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and industry partners (Roke and CGI) have been developing A.I. systems that could help Royal Navy warship Command teams assess threats and provide options on how to counter them. For the first time this technology, previously only trialled in laboratories, has been installed on ships for At-Sea Demonstration/Formidable Shield 2021 (ASD/FS21) which has been taking place in MOD Hebrides Range. Data from the exercise could assist future ship defence options and increased interoperability between NATO ships from allied nations.

Image taken on board HMS Dragon from the Operations Room during exercise Formidable Shield 2021
Image taken on board HMS Dragon from the Operations Room during exercise Formidable Shield 2021

Dstl is trialling two A.I. systems whose information feeds into a ship’s Combat Management System:

  1. STARTLE® from Roke continuously and autonomously detects contacts that exhibit anomalous or suspicious behaviours and creates operator alerts to enable early action against threats.
  2. SYCOIEA from CGI supports Threat Evaluation and Weapon Allocation (TEWA) operators in high tempo operations, including the assessment of track identity, classification, certainty of hostile intent and recommends sequences of effects against multiple threats.
Image taken from HMS Dragon as part of Exercise Formidable Shield 2021
Image taken from HMS Dragon as part of Exercise Formidable Shield 2021

Mass attacks from ship or shore-based missiles or by swarms of uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) could be a feature of future conflicts. As well as overwhelming radar operators with multiple signals, mass attacks could lead to ammunition wastage, as multiple ships each engage the same target.

A.I. within systems aims to enable ship combat operators to avoid duplication and select the optimum defensive measures whether hard kill (missile destroyed) or soft kill (missile diverted using chaff, decoys or signal jamming).

HMS Lancaster (background), HMS Dragon (middle) and HMS Argyll (foreground) partaking in Exercise Formidable Shield 2021

During ASD/FS21 Dstl scientists and industry partners have been operating the systems on board the Type-45 Destroyer HMS Dragon and Type-23 Frigate HMS Lancaster. Our scientists and advisors have captured data that will enable us to assess the ability of the T45 and T23 to conduct missile defence operations within a coalition and assess T45 and T23 capability to detect and track supersonic high diving and subsonic sea-skimming drone targets.

NATO is a cornerstone of UK security and the UK is leading NATO research into the key area of Maritime Theatre Missile Defence (MTMD) interoperability. It’s essential that on joint operations allied ships have a coherent approach to anti-ship missile defence and threat evaluation.

Similar to analysing a Black Box recorder, we’ve accumulated a mass of data, looking at how threats have been responded to and the decisions taken with that information. We’ll be assessing how commanders responded, what worked well and what can be improved.

Find out more about Exercise Formidable Shield here.



Ministry of Defence

DefenceHQ is the official corporate news channel of the UK Ministry of Defence.