US Air National Guard will play big role in NATO’s largest ever air exercise
Stars and Stripes April 21, 2023
STUTTGART, Germany — Preparations are underway for Air Defender 23, billed as the largest demonstration of allied air power in Europe in NATO’s 74-year history.
The multinational exercise, which has been in the works for four years and will include warplanes from across the alliance, is slated to kick off in June across Europe, NATO’s Allied Air Command said in a statement Thursday.
“Our goals for this largest deployment exercise since the foundation of NATO are comprehensive,” said Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz, chief of the German air force, in the statement. “We want to demonstrate the agility and swiftness of air forces as a first responder and showcase NATO air power.”
The exercise is being led by the German military, which is coordinating with more than 20 other countries for a drill that includes some 220 planes and 10,000 personnel. The participants will simulate maneuvers against a would-be aggressor.
The U.S. contribution will include about 100 U.S. Air National Guard aircraft that will fly into Europe. The training will revolve around an Article 5 scenario, which is NATO’s bedrock policy that when one member comes under attack, a collective response from the alliance is required.
Planes will operate from numerous German sites as well as the U.S. Air Force’s Spangdahlem Air Base, and locations in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Maneuvers also will feature so-called “out-and-back” missions into the Baltic states and Romania, according to NATO’s Allied Air Command, headquartered at Ramstein Air Base.
For NATO and U.S. forces in Europe, expanding the scope of war games has been a priority over the last several years as allies focus on being able to carry out large-scale combat operations designed around defending alliance turf.
Russia’s initial intervention in Ukraine in 2014 was the spark for the stepped-up efforts, which have intensified in the aftermath of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of the country in February 2022.
While Russia wasn’t mentioned in NATO’s announcement about the exercise, Air Defender will serve as an opportunity to showcase the alliance’s extensive array of fighter jets, drones and transport aircraft. The high-profile display is likely intended as a signal of strength to Russia, which has struggled to gain air superiority over Ukraine throughout the course of the war there.
Air Defender also coincides with the U.S. European Command’s Defender Europe series of combat drills, which will begin later this month and stretch into late June. That U.S.-led program will involve 7,800 U.S. troops and 15,000 service members from more than 20 allied and partner nations.
Authorities cautioned that Air Defender will result in increased air traffic and noise between June 12 and June 24. Planners are hoping to minimize exposure to aircraft noise by using airspace corridors over sparsely populated areas, the alliance said.
The countries taking part in Air Defender are the following: 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.