NATO ‘Air Defender 2023’: Hundreds of fighter jets fly over Germany in alliance’s biggest air exercise


As early stages Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian invaders Out on the battlefield, hundreds of fighter jets from some of Kiev’s biggest supporters are in the sky Germany NATO is holding its biggest air war games ever.

“Air Defender 2023” is designed to bring together 250 warplanes, including 190 fighter jets, and 10,000 troops to increase the alliance’s readiness and ability to “protect cities and critical infrastructure against air, drone and missile attacks.” Press release.

Although the German-led exercises have been in the works for years, Moscow’s unleashing of airstrikes on Ukrainian cities as part of its 16-month invasion of its neighbor sends a timely message, particularly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tuesday only, Russian missiles hit the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi RihAccording to Oleksandr Vilkul, head of the Kryvyi Rih city military administration, at least 11 people were killed and 28 wounded.

Ukraine’s Operational Command South said Russia fired four “Kalibre” cruise missiles into the Black Sea port city of Odesa, killing three more.

Andriy Dubchak/AP

Emergency workers inspect a multi-story apartment building damaged by the latest Russian rocket attack in Khryvyi Rih, Ukraine, on June 13.

Since Russia’s invasion began in February 2022, the concern in NATO has been that the destruction Moscow inflicted on Ukraine’s cities could spread beyond the country’s borders.

Military support of NATO members to UkraineIt has continued to generate threats of retaliation from Russia, including tanks, armored vehicles and other weapons used in the ongoing offensive in Kiev.

Alliance members are planning Delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine It’s the same type that participates in current war games.

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created after World War II to protect Western nations from the Soviet Union and the alliance has a mutual defense clause, in which an attack on one member is considered an attack against all.

Gregor Fischer/AP

An F-16 fighter jet takes off from the Schleswig-Holstein Air Base in Jagel, Germany on June 12 during the Air Defender 2023 exercise.

NATO nations say Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has made that self-defense clause more important.

“Air Defender is essential because we live in a very dangerous world. As we face the greatest security crisis in a generation, we are united to keep our countries and people safe,” NATO spokeswoman Ona Lungescu said in a statement.

“I would be very surprised if any world leader didn’t notice the strength of this alliance,” US Ambassador to Germany Amy Goodman said before the exercises began.

“NATO territory is a red line and we are prepared to defend every inch of it,” Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhardt, head of Germany’s air forces, told CNN’s Nick Robertson.

That NATO territory includes five members participating in exercises that share a border with Russia — Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Two of them – Estonia and Latvia – will offer smaller parts of the exercises.

Other participants include NATO members Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as NATO applicant Sweden and Japan for its relationship with the alliance. is increasing.

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Fighter jets include US F-35 stealth jets and F-15s; F-16s from the US, Turkey and Greece; Eurofighters from Spain and England; German Tornados; US and Finnish F/A-18s; Hungarian Griffins; as well as American A-10 ground attack jets.

Carl-Joseph Hilton Brand/Image Alliance/Getty Images

Two US Air Force A10 fighter jets taxi on the runway ahead of Air Defender 2023.

This is a large number of participants and aircraft, which can present coordination problems in any real conflict. But analysts say Makes the Air Defender very important.

“It accurately captures the hodge-podge of weapons systems designed by different nations that must work together as part of an air defense campaign,” said Brian Tannehill, an analyst at the RAND Corp. think tank and a former U.S. Navy aviator.

The pilots involved also mentioned the importance of training.

“Training like this is important because we may be called upon to defend NATO in the next conflict, and it’s not going to be a training round,” said U.S. A-10 pilot Maj. Adam Casey.

Exercise planners were able to incorporate real-time footage from the conflict in Ukraine into the exercise, Tanhill said.

“It reflects some of the tactical issues in Ukraine, such as missile interception and tactical air support of troops,” he said.

Peter Leyden, a fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute and a former Royal Australian Air Force officer, said Air Defender 2023 should give Russian military planners a lot to think about.

“The scale and complexity of the exercise is beyond the capabilities that the Russian Air Force has demonstrated in Ukraine. The exercise is a testament to highly sophisticated air power capabilities that the Russians have yet to match,” he said.

Overall, the United States has the largest fleet of aircraft in Air Defender 2023, with 100 aircraft from 42 different states – most aircraft drawn from Air National Guard units.

Analysts say that by using the Air National Guard, rather than regular Air Force aircraft, planners can be more certain that exercises will go as expected.

Layton said the Air National Guard “can have units committed for long periods of time with reasonable confidence that they will not be diverted to a last-minute contingency.”

“If you have active duty units, that means they’re not doing their normal job,” Tanhill said.

The two-week NATO exercise ends on June 23.

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