USA Demonstrated New Weapons System – Wanted To Deter Russia Without Escalating

This week, an American missile system called Rapid Dragon was showcased for the first time in a European context – in the sea area outside Vesterålen, Northern Norway. Here, long-range cruise missiles are dropped onto a pallet with a parachute from an American military transport aircraft of the MC-130J type. The US Air Force and the American defense industry group Lockheed Martin have developed this new weapons system. (Screenshot from SOCEUR)

This week, American special forces have been training in Northern Norway. On Wednesday, they performed the European premiere of a new weapons system at Andøya. The exercise is clearly aimed at Russia and intended to deter expansionist behavior. 

Since the start of this week, special forces from the US Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) have been training under their own auspices at Andøya, north of Nordland county, within the framework of the exercise Atreus.

On Wednesday, they carried out the European premiere of the new and experimental American weapons system Rapid Dragon in the sea area outside of Andøya. According to the US Air Force, this was also the first demonstration of the weapons system with live fire.

The system consists of long-range cruise missiles placed on pallets that are parachuted from military transport aircraft. What is special about this is that precisely such transport aircraft, which usually carry soldiers and various supplies, can also deploy guided missiles through a standard airdrop procedure. 

The demonstration of Rapid Dragon in Northern Norway has been planned at least since early September. The location sends a clear signal to Russia. 

“It puts this thing within range of Russia. We are intentionally trying to be provocative without being escalatory,” says Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Melnicoff of the SOCEUR, leader of the Atreus exercise, to Stars and Stripes.

“We’re trying to deter Russian aggression, expansionist behavior, by showing enhanced capabilities of the allies,” he adds.


“Now less than three years from the program’s inception, Rapid Dragon is being used by SOCEUR in the Arctic Circle. This is a testament to the team’s focus on rapid fielding to meet warfighter needs," stated Dean Evans, leader of the Rapid Dragon program, to DVIDS earlier this fall regarding the Andøya launch.

NOTAM map of Northern Norway for Tuesday, Thursday and Friday respectively. Military operating areas are marked in red. (Screenshot from NOTAM Info)

Several military operational areas

In connection with the Atreus exercise, four partly overlapping military operational areas were activated on Tuesday in the NOTAM map (Notices to Airmen), both at sea, on islands, and on the mainland in the north of Nordland, as well as in the south of Troms, Northern Norway. 

In these areas are Evenes Air Station and Ramsund Naval Station, which are Norwegian-American "agreed areas" after a new defense agreement.

The characterization of parts of Andøya, Langøya, and Hinnøya, and a larger field off the coast as danger areas, was on account of the missile system testing. From Monday to Wednesday, Andøya Air Station and Andøya Space Defense's training area have probably served as important hubs.

American and Norwegian forces have not provided any more information about the exercise activity in the three other operational areas.

In the NOTAM map for Thursday, two military operational areas were activated further east in Northern Nordland and South Troms, near the Swedish border.

Today, Friday, a large military operational area has been drawn up, primarily at sea outside the southern parts of the Nordland coast. There is no further information about this activity either.

The tail of an American military surveillance aircraft of the MC-12W type, belonging to the 137th Special Operations Wing, surrounded by the Northern Lights on Monday during the Atreus exercise. Here, near Andøya. (Photo: Brigette Waltermire/U.S. Air Force)
Such operations are connected to planning for the worst-case scenario.
Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Melnicoff of the SOCEUR, leader of the Atreus exercise

Geographically spread out on several levels

The Atreus exercise also involves several participating states, locations, and types of training operations.

Poland, Romania, and the UK are also in action – with specific exercise activity in the two former countries and from bases in the latter. In Romania, training involving the mobile rocket artillery system HIMARS has been carried out, a system the American special forces and the Swedish Armed Forces also practiced with in Northern Sweden in September.

Five other American geographical commands are also involved, for example the US Indo-Pacific Command, something that makes this "a historic demonstration of allied solidarity worldwide,” says Melnicoff in the DVIDS article.

The three countries mentioned above regularly participate in Atreus, which is a series of exercises established in 2021. As stated, it is led by the US Special Operations Command in Europe (SOCEUR), and is subordinate to the US European Command. Since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, these have contributed to efforts under the US European Reassurance Initiative, later Deterrence Initiative.

This week's exercise activity is most likely part of this deterrence initiative, which involves an increased US military presence and funding of military infrastructure in Europe. This year's budget is 3.8 billion dollars, and it is sought to be increased to 4.2 billion dollars in 2023.

A map that illustrates the Atreus exercise this week. (Screenshot from SOCEUR)

Worst-case scenario

The Atreus series is designed to build cooperation between the US and its NATO allies and partner countries through training in Europe on various operations with versatile capabilities – such as mixing and matching weapons systems in new ways, such as Rapid Dragon illustrates.

"Such operations are connected to planning for the worst-case scenario in the event Russia were to take aim at allied military hubs in Europe," Melnicoff also said to Stars and Stripes.

According to him, Russia has in its military planning, an eye for specific hubs or aggregations of allied power, such as the American air base Ramstein in Germany and the British air base Lakenheath in Suffolk.

In the case of such important bases being hit in the event of a war, high priority is given to the flexible, border-crossing ability to provide precision fire on the part of the alliance. This is something being trained on during Atreus.

Such an expansion of the range of military options will complicate Russian decision-making, Melcinoff points out.

SOCEUR itself is based in Stuttgart, Germany, and aircraft from the Ramstein base have transported weapons systems to the training locations during this round of Atreus exercising.

Soldiers from the American Air Force take care of unexploded ordnance during the Atreus exercise. Here, at Andøya Space Defence's training area on Tuesday. (Photo: Brigette Waltermire/U.S. Air Force)

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.