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Tactical Air Force Squadron 51 in Jagel: 70 aircraft from Germany are involved in the "Air Defender" maneuver

Photo: IMAGO / IMAGO/Nikito

The largest air force exercise since NATO's inception – the "Air Defender 2023" maneuver – begins this Monday. 23 nations and NATO are taking part in the German-led exercise until 25 June. According to the Bundeswehr, around 10,000 soldiers and 250 aircraft are involved. Among them are 70 machines from Germany. Around 90 percent of air traffic is expected to take place in Germany and the adjacent coastal areas of the North Sea and Baltic Sea.

The exercise is intended to show that the NATO military alliance "can act quickly in an emergency," said Bundeswehr Air Force Inspector Ingo Gerhartz.

Disruptions to civil aviation are expected – there were different assessments of the extent in advance. "This will be in the range of minutes at most," Gerhartz had said of possible delays in flights. In addition, the exercise is running before the big holiday travel wave. The air traffic controllers' union GdF had made a different forecast. The military exercise "will, of course, have a massive impact on the course of civil aviation," said its chairman Matthias Maas.

Night flight restrictions eased

The Federal Ministers of Defence and Transport have asked the states at short notice to ease the night flight restrictions at the airports in order to be able to accommodate delayed passenger jets late in the evening. For example, Baden-Württemberg has allowed exemptions for Stuttgart until 2 a.m. Longer operating times are also on the horizon for Hamburg and Düsseldorf. At Frankfurt Airport in the black-green government of Hesse, late take-offs are approved until 24 p.m. if the reason for the delay is due to the maneuver.

Three airspaces in Germany are directly affected by the exercise: over parts of northern Germany and the North Sea, parts of eastern Germany and the Baltic Sea, and parts of southwestern Germany. The aim is to train how a fictitious attack by an eastern attacker is repelled by NATO allies. According to the Air Force, the first idea for the maneuver was born in 2018, before Russia's war of aggression on Ukraine in 2022.

A kick-off event of "Air Defender 2023" is planned for Monday afternoon at the Wunstorf military airfield near Hanover, which serves as a logistics hub for the maneuver. The Inspector of the Air Force, Gerhartz, the Inspector of the Armed Forces Base, Lieutenant General Martin Schelleis, and Lower Saxony's Prime Minister Stephan Weil (SPD) are expected there.