NATO will next week conduct its largest air maneuvers exercise, coordinated by Germany, US and German officials announced Wednesday (June 7th).
The "Air Defender 23" exercise will take place over ten days from Monday and will bring together some 220 military aircraft from 25 NATO member and partner countries.
Exercise of a defensive nature
The exercise will be purely defensive in nature but will also aim to send a message, especially to Russia, explained to the press the ambassador of the United States to Germany, Amy Gutmann. "I would be very surprised if a world leader did not take note of what it shows in terms of the spirit of this alliance, what the strength of this alliance means, and that includes Vladimir Putin," she said.
The exercise will include operational and tactical training, mainly in Germany, but also in the Czech Republic, Estonia and Latvia. The exercise was designed in 2018, partly in response to Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, even if it specifically targets "nobody," said General Ingo Gerhartz, head of the German Air Force.
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We are a defensive alliance and that is how this exercise is planned," he added. "A lot has changed in the global strategic landscape, especially here in Europe," said Gen. Michael Loh, director of the U.S. Air National Guard, who said NATO is at an "inflection point." "This exercise aims to complement the permanent presence of the United States in Europe and provide training on a larger scale than is usually accomplished on the continent," he said.
There are no plans at this stage to make "Air Defender" a regular exercise, Amy Gutmann said. But, she added, "we don't want this exercise to be the last." Asked about potential disruptions to civil air travel during the exercise, Gerhartz insisted planners had done "everything in their power" to avoid flight delays or cancellations, as school holidays begin in parts of Germany.
Created at the beginning of the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has become the main joint military defence organization, with 31 member countries in Europe and North America.