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Wunstorf, Lower Saxony Big, bigger, Air Defender 23: The maneuver of NATO air forces is a military exercise of superlatives
: For almost two weeks, 25 countries with the deployment of more than 10,000 soldiers and 250 military aircraft, from transporters to fighter jets, are practicing the so-called emergency over Germany.

Markus Becker, DER SPIEGEL
»This maneuver is already much larger than previous maneuvers of this kind, it is the largest of its kind in the history of NATO and of course it also hits a strategically very interesting time, because there is war in Europe and Russia has attacked Ukraine, even if that means from NATO, of course, that this maneuver is not a direct response to this attack. The first ideas for this maneuver are said to have been circulating as early as 2018."

The initiator of the maneuver is this man: Air Force Inspector Ingo Gerhartz. His message at the beginning of the maneuver was clear: no war of aggression is to be trained here.

Ingo Gerhartz, Air Force Inspector
»This exercise is not directed against anyone in the signal. It's a signal to us, to the inside, into NATO."

The scenario for the exercise: How does NATO react when an enemy army attacks Germany?
Specifically, the fictitious attack of an eastern alliance on the port of Rostock is simulated. Among other things, there are sabotage actions and the use of special forces. As a result, the Western alliance triggers a state of defense under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.
Markus Becker, DER SPIEGEL

"So in such a scenario as this maneuver is based on, Germany would of course still be a focal point of hostilities. And this will certainly be one of the reasons why this maneuver over Germany is mainly taking place. And yet, of course, it is the case that 100 of these 250 aircraft involved come from the USA, which is of course also a very strong signal to potential opponents that the alliance is sticking together transatlantically."

Above all, the ability to work together multinationally is crucial in the exercises. But more important than the training of common procedures may even be the signal that 100 fighter jets can be transferred from the USA to Europe within a very short time.

"The American ambassador to Germany, Amy Gutmann, has said that she would be very surprised if any head of state in the world did not take note of what the maneuver means in terms of NATO's strength. And she has explicitly said that this also includes Mr Putin. So it's pretty clear that this maneuver is also a signal to Russia."

However, it is also clear that the maneuver will be a burden for the civilian population: It began on Monday, and now there will be daily practice: from 10 a.m. to 20 p.m. spread over three training rooms in the north, east and south. It can be assumed that civil flight schedules will be mixed up: a scenario calculated by the European air navigation service provider Eurocontrol results in up to 50,000 minutes of delay per manoeuvre day.

Markus Becker, DER SPIEGEL
"That would correspond to a normal day with 10,000 aircraft movements and severe thunderstorms at the same time. And in this scenario it is said that up to 100 aircraft would then no longer be able to reach their night-time destination and would then not be available for passengers in the right place the next morning.
In the end, we will have to see how much this actually hinders civil air traffic. But interestingly, some military officials have probably already said behind closed doors that it is not so bad if there are a few obstructions in civil aviation. Because that would make it clear to normal people that the threat situation is different today than it was a few years ago. And that it can be quite helpful if people also notice that something has changed.«

The mega exercise in the skies over Germany can be seen, heard – and felt – until 23 June.