May 3 (UPI) -- The Spanish Navy's frigate ESPS Cristobal Colon will lead a multination interoperability exercise off the Portuguese coast, the U.S. Navy announced on Monday.
The two-week exercise, known as Exercise At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield 2021, will begin May 15 under the direction of the U.S. Sixth Fleet, and be conducted by NATO's Naval Striking and Support Services.
Fifteen ships, at least 10 aircraft and about 3,000 military personnel representing Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Britain and the United States will be involved.
The exercise is designed to improve allied interoperability in a live-fire joint IAMD, or integrated air and missile defense, environment, using NATO command and control reporting structures.
"It's a wonderful opportunity to show our relationship with the exercise organization and with this big challenge of the ballistic missile defense in Europe," said Cmdr. Juan Bautista Payá, the Cristobal Colon's commanding officer, said in a U.S. Navy press release.
"It's a really demanding task to be the flag ship, but the Spanish Navy is prepared for that and we are doing our best to embark [U.S. personnel] and to allow you to perform the command and control for the exercise in the best way," Payá said.
The NATO striking force, known as STRIKFORNATO and led by U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Gene Black, is NATO's only certified Expanded Task Force.
Black was a speaker at the Future Maritime Warfare Symposium at Norfolk, Va., in April, a pre-exercise meeting called "Winning the Next Battle of the Atlantic."
Black spoke of STRIKFORNATO as a flexible response option for executing battle orders by NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe forces [SACEUR], a NATO statement said at the time.
Formidable Shield 2021 will involve STRIKFORNATO's command, reporting directly to SACEUR, delivering a "rapidly deployable and scalable headquarters capable of planning and executing full spectrum joint maritime operations," the U.S. Navy statement said.
It will also provide command and control of maritime Ballistic Missile Defense through integration with the U.S. Navy.