Germany hosts historic NATO aerial exercise over Europe

Christian Timmig / Bundeswehr

NATO is set to host its largest air drill to date in the skies over Germany. 

After several years of planning, the Air Defender 23 exercise is scheduled to begin on June 12, 2023, the day of Russia’s independence celebration. It will bring together 25 NATO members and their partner states.  

The exercise will take place at six military bases across cities in Germany, as well as additional locations in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. 

The exercise involves approximately 250 aircraft, including United States and Dutch Lockheed Martin-manufactured F-35s, Airborne Warning and Control System planes, aerial refueling tankers, and even transport aircraft from the Japanese Air Force.  

Notably, the US is making a significant contribution with 84 aircraft, predominantly supplied by Air National Guard units from across 30 states.  

These aircraft will participate in drills intended to boost interoperability and preparedness to protect against drones and cruise missiles in the case of an attack on cities, airports, or seaports within NATO territory. 

The Air Defender exercise was first initiated in 2018 and is finally being executed amid heightened political tensions with Russia. 

 “I would be pretty surprised if any world leader was not taking note of what this shows in terms of the spirit of this alliance, which means the strength of this alliance, and that includes Mr. Putin,” US Ambassador to Germany, Amy Gutmann, told reporters during a press conference on June 7, 2023.  

An estimated 10,000 personnel will be participating in the exercise. Their uniforms will bear the slogan “Stronger Together,” highlighting the alliance’s unified stance.  

However, there are indications of potential discord within NATO. During an interview with The Guardian on June 6, 2023, former NATO Chief Anders Rasmussen suggested that countries like Poland could unilaterally decide to send troops to Ukraine if security guarantees are not found at the alliance’s upcoming summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July 2023. 

“If NATO cannot agree on a clear path forward for Ukraine, there is a clear possibility that some countries individually might take action,” Rasmussen said. 

Parallel to the operations in Germany, NATO exercises are also taking place in other parts of Europe. On June 7, 2023, 150 European aircraft were assembled in Finland. NATO troops are also currently on Romanian bases engaged in simulations for regaining territories.   

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