250 NATO aircraft to conduct a large-scale drill in Germany this June

NATO's planned Air Defender 23 will see 250 aircraft from 25 nations co-ordinate large-scale aerial drills over German airspace later in June this year.
Christopher McFadden
German military aircraft, circa 2016.
German military aircraft, circa 2016.


NATO members are preparing for a large-scale aerial deployment drill over German airspace later this month. The combined military exercise will be conducted between the 12th and 23rd of June 2023 and will see around 10,000 participants and 250 aircraft deployed in force from 25 separate nations. Called Air Defender 23, the drill is intended as a show of force and solidarity to simulate what would happen if one NATO member were ever attacked.

The US dispatches approximately 2,000 personnel from the Air National Guard and around 100 aircraft to engage in the training exercises scheduled from June 12-23. Germany's air command has designated three air exercise zones for daily use lasting two to four hours. However, to ensure safety, civilian airlines will be prohibited from using the airspace during these periods, potentially causing disruptions to passenger flights across Europe.

“This is an exercise that would be impressive to anybody who’s watching, and we don’t make anybody watch it,” United States Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann told reporters in Berlin.

“It will demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt the agility and the swiftness of our allied force in NATO as a first responder,” she added. “I would be pretty surprised if any world leader were not taking note of what this shows in terms of the spirit of this alliance, which means the strength of this alliance,” Gutmann said.

While the drill had been planned for years, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year has jolted NATO members, and efforts to expand and fortify the military alliance have increased. Sweden, aspiring to join NATO, and Japan will also participate in the exercise.

“We are showing that NATO territory is our red line, that we are prepared to defend every centimeter of this territory,” said Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz of the German Air Force coordinating the exercise. “But we won’t, for example, conduct any flights toward Kaliningrad. So this is intended to be defensive,”

Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. The US Air National Guard director, Lieutenant General Michael A Loh, said the exercise goes beyond deterrence. “It’s about the readiness of our force. It’s about coordination, not just within NATO, but with our other allies and partners outside of NATO,” he said.

According to Loh, the upcoming exercise provides an excellent chance for younger US airmen, predominantly serving in the Middle East, to establish connections with European allies and prepare for diverse military situations. “So this is about establishing what it means to go against a great power in a great power competition,” he said.

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