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Germany is hosting the largest air exercise in NATO history

Miguel Ortiz Avatar

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have greatly increased defense spending and joint training operations. To that end, Air Defender 2023 is slated to be the largest air exercise in the alliance’s history. Hosted by Germany, the event will involve 23 other nations, 220 aircraft and 10,000 service members.

AD23 will be the largest air exercise in NATO history (NATO)

Scheduled for June 12-23, Air Defender 2023 will be held primarily in Germany. However, forward operating locations will be also be in the Czech Republic, Estonia and Latvia. “Air Defender ‘23 strategically unites the United States and Germany,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael A. Loh, director, Air National Guard, at a press conference at the German Embassy in Washington, D.C. “[The exercise] tests not only our interoperability to work together, but it also tests our ability to rapidly deploy and rapidly employ [coalition air power].”

germany nato exercise A400
A German Air Force A400 at Joint Base Andrews for Air Defender 2023 Media Day, April 5, 2023. The other side of the plane’s vertical stabilizer features the American flag and the Statue of Liberty (U.S. Air National Guard)

Of the 220 aircraft expected to participate in Air Defender 2023, nearly 100 are coming from more than 40 Air National Guard units across 35 states. This makes the air exercise not only the largest in NATO history, but the largest U.S. Air Force deployment exercise since NATO was founded in 1949.

nebraska air national guard kc-135
A Nebraska Air National Guard KC-135 refuels a German PA-200 Tornado. Air Defender 2023 will test interoperability like this and more (U.S. Air Force)

Participating in Air Defender 2023 are the following NATO nations: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

germany nato exercise typhoon
The Eurofighter Typhoon is flown by some NATO nations taking part in the exercise including Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK (Bundeswehr)

Additionally, Sweden and Japan will be participating in the exercise. Sweden applied for NATO membership at the same time as Finland in May 2022 and is still waiting to be accepted by every member of the alliance. Japan’s participation highlights NATO’s commitment to security both in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region.

germany nato exercise f-35
Left to right: Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Loh, German Chief of Defense Gen. Eberhard Zorn and German Air Force Chief Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz converse in front of an F-35 (U.S. Air Force)

23 different types of aircraft will be involved in Air Defender 2023. Most NATO members fly the F-35A Lightning II fighter. Other participating aircraft include the C-17A Globemaster III and C-130H Hercules cargo planes, KC-46A Pegasus and A400M Atlas tankers, E-3 Sentry AWACS, and UAVs like the MQ-9 Reaper just to name a few. Ground-based air defense weapon systems will also be used during the exercise.