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Major air defense exercise starts in Germany, effect on civilian flights unclear

by Michael Nguyen
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Indiana Tornado

A significant air defense exercise, touted as NATO’s largest in history, has begun in Germany, raising questions about its effects on civilian flights.

Starting on Monday, the Air Defender 23 exercise will run until June 23 and has been planned for some time. Its primary objective is to demonstrate the alliance’s capabilities amidst heightened tensions with Russia.

Over 10,000 participants and 250 aircraft from 25 nations will respond to a simulated attack on a NATO member. The United States, in particular, is deploying 2,000 U.S. Air National Guard personnel and approximately 100 aircraft.

German air force chief Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz emphasized that the exercise sends a clear message to NATO countries and their populations, assuring them that the alliance is capable of swift responses and defending against potential attacks. He revealed that he proposed the exercise in 2018, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, as a response to the pressing need for NATO to strengthen its defense capabilities.

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022 has prompted NATO to actively prepare for potential attacks on its territory. Sweden, aspiring to join the alliance, and Japan are also participating in the exercise.

Estimations regarding the impact of the exercise on civilian flights have been diverse. Matthias Maas, the head of the German air traffic controllers’ union, GdF, expressed concerns about significant disruptions to civilian aviation operations.

However, Gerhartz refuted these claims, stating that Germany’s air traffic control authority has collaborated with the air force to minimize disruptions as much as possible. He clarified that the exercise is confined to three specific areas, which will not all be utilized simultaneously. Moreover, the exercise will conclude before school vacations commence in any German state.

“I anticipate no cancellations; there might be occasional delays of a few minutes,” Gerhartz assured, dismissing a study referenced by the air traffic controllers’ union that assumes a worst-case scenario in adverse weather conditions, during which military flights would not occur anyway.


Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine war: link to AP coverage

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about air defense exercise

What is the purpose of the Air Defender 23 exercise in Germany?

The Air Defender 23 exercise in Germany serves as a demonstration of NATO’s capabilities in the face of heightened tensions with Russia. It aims to showcase the alliance’s ability to respond swiftly and defend its members in the event of an attack.

How many participants and aircraft are involved in the exercise?

The exercise involves over 10,000 participants and 250 aircraft from 25 nations. The United States is contributing 2,000 U.S. Air National Guard personnel and approximately 100 aircraft to the exercise.

Will the exercise disrupt civilian flights?

The extent of disruption to civilian flights is uncertain. While some concerns have been raised about potential disruptions, German air traffic control authorities have worked closely with the air force to minimize any impact. The exercise is limited to specific areas and is scheduled to conclude before the start of school vacations in any German state.

What prompted NATO to undertake such a large-scale exercise?

NATO’s decision to conduct the exercise on this scale was influenced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This incursion has led NATO to take the threat of potential attacks on its territory seriously, prompting increased preparedness and the need to showcase its defense capabilities.

Which countries other than Germany and the United States are participating in the exercise?

Apart from Germany and the United States, 23 other nations are taking part in the Air Defender 23 exercise. This includes countries such as Sweden, which aspires to join NATO, and Japan, emphasizing the international cooperation and collective defense approach of the alliance.

More about air defense exercise

  • NATO Official Website: Link
  • German Air Force: Link
  • United States Air National Guard: Link
  • Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Link
  • Air Defender 23 Exercise Details: Link (Note: Replace “example.com” with the actual website providing the exercise details)

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