Air Defender 23, NATO’s Biggest Air Exercise Ever, Kicks Off Led by German Air Force

Air Defender 23, NATO’s Biggest Air Exercise Ever, Kicks Off Led by German Air Force

By Dario Leone
Jun 13 2023
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Air Defender 23, NATO’s Biggest Air Exercise Ever

Germany, in a fictitious year of the future: NATO’s years-long confrontation with the eastern military alliance OCCASUS has reached the soil of the Federal Republic. Special forces of the Brückner organization and other troops of OCCASUS could be smuggled into Germany from the east. Now air and ground forces hold the entire Klebius region, about a quarter of the country. And the next tactical move is already in sight: The OCCASUS alliance is trying to push north to the Baltic Sea and take possession of the port of Rostock.

To do so, it is using a mix of sabotage operations and the use of special forces supported from the air. As a result, the Western alliance triggers a state of defense under Article 5 of the NATO treaty, the German military, or Bundeswehr, said in a release. All of this is fictional. But it is the premise of the German-led multinational exercise Air Defender 23, the largest air force deployment in NATO’s history.

According to a NATO news release, from June 12-23, the goal is to exercise air operations with Allied and Partner air forces. The focus is on optimizing and expanding cooperation among participating nations.

Air Defender 23, NATO’s Biggest Air Exercise Ever, Kicks Off Led by German Air Force
The exercise’s large scale operations involve almost 10,000 personnel and more than 250 aircraft from 25 nations and NATO.

Stopping the advance into northern Germany

The conflict, which spans the line between the Arctic and the Black Sea, had been building up for some time. In the scenario, the state of Murinus and its allies Plumbeus, Griseus and Cinereus are linked by joint trade and security agreements. To weaken NATO, the eastern alliance first increased its military presence in the alliance area’s neighborhood, such as near the Baltics. In a special operation, OCCASUS most recently attacked and swiftly captured the state of Otso outside NATO alliance territory.

With an eye on NATO countries such as Germany, where OCCASUS sympathizers influence public opinion, OCCASUS is leaving it at hybrid warfare for now. The shortage of energy supplies is hitting the German economy, still weakened by the Corona pandemic, particularly hard, especially as inflation rates are rising rapidly. But if the wheels mesh with the Western air forces, at least the further advance into northern Germany will be halted.

Air Defender 23, NATO’s Biggest Air Exercise Ever, Kicks Off Led by German Air Force
The US air forces deploying to Germany are mostly Air National Guard units from 35 US States.

Background of NATO’s Biggest Air Exercise Ever

Every exercise requires a fictitious scenario in order to train military operations realistically based on it. The fictitious geopolitical scenarios then serve as a basis for the operation planners to plan in detail the individual military exercise missions that are part of the overall exercise.

“With exercise Air Defender 23, we are opening a new chapter in transatlantic history,” said Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, Chief of the German Air Force at a press conference for German and American journalists in the US in early April.

The exercise – which Germany started to plan in 2018 (well before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin in February 2022) – is based on a collective defence scenario also known as Article 5 scenario in which Allies deploy their air forces to Germany to fight against hybrid occupation forces from a fictitious opponent.

Air Defender 23, NATO’s Biggest Air Exercise Ever, Kicks Off Led by German Air Force
On the occasion of the Air Defender 2023 exercise an Airbus A400M airlifter has received a special paint scheme for the first time. Also, the Tactical Air Force Squadron 51 ‘Immelmann’ specially painted a Tornado.

Multinational exercise

In coordinated combined operations, the Allied air forces demonstrate they are capable of defending NATO territory with swift decisive action. The exercise’s large-scale operations involve almost 10,000 personnel and more than 250 aircraft from 25 nations and NATO.

These are clearly the focus of the multinational exercise under the aegis of the German Air Force – even though the conflict in the imagined scenario is far more complex, also encompassing the political, economic and media levels. The core of the large-scale exercise is to test the military’s ability to react and act in the air in a resilient manner and to be able to protect the population from medium-range missiles, for example. Exercises will mainly take place in three flight corridors over Germany, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea – including aerial refueling and low-level flights. Under the eastern exercise area is the fictitious region of Kleibus, which in the scenario is occupied by the OCCASUS alliance.

The US air forces deploying to Germany are mostly Air National Guard units from 35 US States. The bulk of the participating forces operate out of three German Air Force bases and others fly in from their home bases.

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Air Defender 23

Air Defender 23 demonstrates transatlantic solidarity through the visible contribution of US air forces. Germany’s ability to receive and host large aircraft contingents at its airfields enabling among others the US Agile Combat Employment concept facilitating short-term and out-and-back deployments. Last, but not least Air Defender is a major demonstration of NATO’s Deterrence and Defence in the Euro-Altantic area that is to reassure populations of Allied cohesion and commitment.

According to the German Air Chief, Lieutenant General Gerhartz, Germany – by planning, organising, and conducting Air Defender 2023 – responds to calls to accept more responsibility in the global security domain.

“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,” Amy Gutmann, the US ambassador to Germany, told reporters according to Air & Space Force Magazine. “That includes Mr. Putin.”

On the occasion of the Air Defender 2023 exercise an Airbus A400M airlifter has received a special paint scheme for the first time. Also, the Tactical Air Force Squadron 51 ‘Immelmann’ specially painted a Tornado.

Air Defender 23, NATO’s Biggest Air Exercise Ever, Kicks Off Led by German Air Force
Air Defender is a major demonstration of NATO’s Deterrence and Defence in the Euro-Altantic area that is to reassure populations of Allied cohesion and commitment.

Photo credit: Bundeswehr/Timmig, US National Guard and Bundeswehr/Baerwald


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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