PULA, Croatia — A small group of 173rd Airborne Brigade paratroopers, or “Sky Soldiers,” traveled to Croatia take part in a multinational air defense and electronic warfare exercise from April 19 through 21, 2023 called Exercise Shield 23.

Exercise Shield is an annual Croatian air defense exercise that aims at strengthening the execution of air defense tactics against low and medium altitude moving aerial threats.

During the exercise this year, units from the United States, Croatia, Poland and Slovenia collectively trained on air defense and electronic warfare tactics, techniques and procedures, including air-space control, synchronization, surveillance, threat detection and live fire engagements against flying objects.

The exercise strengthened air defense interoperability between NATO allies by combining multiple air defense platforms in the same area of operations.

Capt. Mitchel Hess, the 173rd Airborne’s air defense officer, has attended the last two Shield exercises.

“The relationship we have built with the Croatians is of great importance to our collective security,” said Hess. “Through allied training and collaboration, we have developed a strong partnership. The Croatians have demonstrated their dedication and professionalism, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with them for years to come.”

Croatian Army 2nd Lt. Jure Brkic, Croatian Air Defense Regiment, has been one of the lead officers on the Croatian side for building a successful partnership with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

“From the initial planning to final planning, we had a lot of brainstorming of ideas for training,” said Brkic. “And of course, the relationship between allies is important in many ways. Such as getting familiar with different doctrines, problem solving, interoperability and learning new weapon systems.”

Each country brought a different air defense platform to the seaside training area near Pula and utilized basic drones and flares to simulate detecting and engaging enemy targets. The Sky Soldier air defenders brought Dronebuster 3Bs, while the Croatian Air Defense Regiment used the QR-07S3 Drone Jammer System.

Last year, the Sky Soldiers brought FIM-92 Stinger missiles to engage launched flares. This year, Polish air defenders brought their Piorun Portable Anti-Aircraft Missile System or “Thunderbolt” and demonstrated two live missile launches.

Distinguished visitors from each participating country’s military came to oversee the training at the end of the exercise. The culminating event was an incredible display of NATO air defense. All countries’ militaries demonstrated their capabilities by engaging aerial targets with their respective platforms. From Dronebusters to missiles to anti-aircraft guns, the point got across — the air defenders are truly stronger together.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army’s Contingency Response Force in Europe, providing rapidly deployable forces to the United States European, African, and Central Command areas of responsibility. Forward deployed across Italy and Germany, the brigade routinely trains alongside NATO allies and partners to build partnerships and strengthen the alliance.

Story by MAJ Robyn Haake

Photos by SGT Mariah Gonzalez

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