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US Army Uses High-Altitude Balloons in Arctic Firing Exercise

The US Army recently conducted a cross-domain exercise with allies and partners in the Arctic Sea to examine new warfighting methods.

Exercise Thunder Cloud in northern Norway tested sensor-to-shooter capabilities involving high-altitude balloons and long-range precision fires, the army said.

Lt. Col. Dave Henderson of the 1st Battalion explained, “[Thunder Cloud] is about three things: modernization, partnership, and readiness…part of multi-domain operations is finding the new sensor’s best shooter, so this asset here is a unique way to conduct targeting.”

Attempt to ‘Operationalize’ Stratosphere

The exercise included the newly-activated 2nd Multi-Domain Task Force (MDTF) and 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Field Artillery Brigade. The units made the first-ever attempt to operationalize the stratosphere (50-60 km or 31-37 miles above the surface) in a military exercise. As part of the effort, participants launched Raven Aerostar high-altitude balloons for data coordination on weather patterns and targeting.

Lt. Col. Nicholas Stout, with the 2nd MDTF, explained that the task force “brings a series of capabilities that span land, air, sea, and space. We are out here to experiment in a cross-domain live-fire exercise.”

US Army Europe and Africa activated the task force on September 16 at Allen Field, Clay Kaserne, Germany.

Multi-Domain Task Force

Col. Jonathan Byrom, commander of the 2nd MDTF, remarked before the activation ceremony that the “task force provides additional capabilities for US Army Europe and Africa to leverage in preventing conflict, shaping the security environment and if necessary, prevailing in large-scale ground combat operations.

“As a part of a joint force, we synchronize precision effects in support of US European Command and US Africa Command objectives,” he added.

The multi-domain task force was established in 2017 to defeat enemy anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) networks in all domains. The army plans to build five MDTFs: “two aligned to the Indo-Pacific region; one aligned to Europe; one stationed in the Arctic region and oriented on multiple threats, and a fifth MDTF aligned for a global response.” The first MDTF is based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

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