NATO's largest ever air drill kicks off

  • 2023-06-12
  • LETA/AFP/TBT Staff

BERLIN - NATO began its largest ever air force deployment exercise in Europe on Monday.

The German-led Air Defender 23 exercise will include some 250 military aircraft from 25 NATO and partner countries including Japan and NATO candidate Sweden. The scenario of the exercise includes playing out a response to an attack on a NATO member state. 

The exercise will run until June 23.

Up to 10,000 service members are to participate in the drills intended to boost interoperability and preparedness to protect against drones and cruise missiles in the case of an attack within NATO territory.

Air Defender was conceived in 2018 in part as a response to the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine four years before.

The first flights began in the late morning at the Wunstorf, Jagel and Lechfeld air bases, a Luftwaffe spokesman confirmed to AFP.

Hundreds of demonstrators had gathered at Wunstorf in northern Germany on Saturday against the drills, under the banner "Practice peace -- not war". Protesters called for a "diplomatic solution" to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and an immediate ceasefire.

US Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann said the exercise would show "beyond a shadow of a doubt the agility and the swiftness of our allied force" and was intended to send a message to countries including 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," she told reporters, referring to the Russian president.

"By synchronizing together, we multiply our force."

The exercise includes operational and tactical-level training, primarily in Germany, but also in the Czech Republic, Estonia and Latvia, with a total of around 2,000 flights.

German authorities and industry groups have warned that flight schedules could be impacted, particularly at major hubs such as Frankfurt and Berlin-Brandenburg due to their proximity to drill zones.