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Lt. Col. Jean-Francoise Lefevre, a French pilot who is flying with the German Air Force Command, takes a self portrait thousands of feet in the air over Europe during NATO's "Clean Hunter 05" exercise.
Lt. Col. Jean-Francoise Lefevre, a French pilot who is flying with the German Air Force Command, takes a self portrait thousands of feet in the air over Europe during NATO's "Clean Hunter 05" exercise. (Courtesy to Stars and Stripes)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — NATO is conducting its largest flying exercise of the year from bases across central Europe with more than 250 aircraft from 11 allied countries.

The annual exercise, dubbed “Clean Hunter 2005,” began Monday and ends on Friday.

The drill has been a mainstay for NATO forces the last 12 years, but one difference this time is the deployment of a combined air operations center. The Interim Deployable Combined Air Operations Center, based at Ramstein Air Base and Kalkar, Germany — deployed 160 people from nine countries to Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands. It’s the first time a combined air operations center has been used in the exercise.

The exercise is a chance to see how well forces can deploy on a moment’s notice and support a large air operation, said German Air Force Lt. Col. Meinrad Angermayer, a spokesman for the Component Command Air Headquarters at Ramstein.

“This is one main part of this exercise,” Angermayer told Stars and Stripes. “We learn whether this Interim Deployable Combined Air Operations Center deployment is functional or not [and] where are the problems and how will we solve those problems.”

With NATO trying to become more flexible and able to deploy faster than ever, Angermayer said air forces have to be ready to bring air power to spots far from Europe.

If planes are needed across the globe, pilots can’t do the job without an operations center to help coordinate the missions.

The makeshift air operations center — partly housed in tents — is the nerve center for the exercise. However, the deployable headquarters formed for this exercise is only temporary, according to a NATO news release. The plan is to form a permanent air operations center that will be operational by the end of 2009.

Some of the aircraft participating in this year’s Clean Hunter include U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps aircraft, including F-16s from Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany and KC-135 tanker aircraft from RAF Mildenhall, England.

Most of the pilots are flying aircraft — from tankers to fighters — from their home bases, from Britain to Denmark and as far south as the Alps.

Allied Air Component Command Headquarters at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is directing the exercise.

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