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Air Defender 23: largest exercise of air forces in NATO’s history kicks off

Photo: Bundeswehr

NATO has begun its largest-ever air force deployment exercise with 10,000 participants from 25 nations and 220 aircraft training in European airspace.

Initiated by Germany in 2018 and planned in subsequent years, the exercise will take place from June 12-23 under German leadership.

The exercise was reportedly added to the schedule following the events at Kabul airport in 2021, where the US and its allies swiftly concluded their mission in Afghanistan, emphasizing the need for enhanced preparedness and coordination.

Air Defender 23 (AD23) will be combined in time and space with the German-led Multinational Air Group Exercise (MAGDAYS 23) and linked to two NATO exercises (RAMSTEIN DUST 23 and RAMSTEIN GUARD 23).

The exercise scenario is based on a NATO Article 5 assistance scenario, the principle that if a NATO ally faces an armed attack, every member of the Alliance will consider it an attack against all and take necessary actions to provide assistance.

Other scenarios featured in the exercise involve providing air support to ground troops, engaging in aerial battles against enemy jets, and conducting NATO fighter bomber interceptions of medium-range missiles.

After the arrival and establishment of incoming US reinforcements and other allied aircraft at several key hubs, including Jagel/Hohn in Schleswig-Holstein, Wunstorf in Lower Saxony, Lechfeld in Bavaria, Spangdahlem in Rhineland-Palatinate, Volkel in the Netherlands, and Čáslav in the Czech Republic, the participants will engage in Composite Air Operations (COMAOs) within training areas over Germany. Additionally, they will carry out “out-and-back” missions into the Baltic States and Romania.

Assets from Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Slovenia, Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey, Hungary, the United Kingdom, and the United States will be flying in AD23.

“Our goals for this largest deployment exercise since the foundation of NATO are comprehensive,” said Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, Chief German Air Force. “We want to demonstrate the agility and swiftness of Air Forces as a first responder and showcase NATO Air Power. In addition, we as the Luftwaffe show that we can plan, organize and execute such a large exercise. We take responsibility,” said Lieutenant General Gerhartz

The collaboration of 24 nations hones our interoperability and enables a credible deterrence against a potential aggressor. The transatlantic dimension – we will have 100 US Air National Guard aircraft flying in Europe – is a rock-solid proof of NATO cohesion and solidarity,” he added.

The exercise encompasses a total of 220 aircraft, representing 23 different types. Notably, 100 of these aircraft originate from the United States and are being deployed to Europe.