Europe’s largest military aviation exercise since the end of the Cold War began on Monday, with more than 25 countries training fighters, bombers and cargo planes to Russia.
The war game has been planned since 2018, but has taken on even more urgency after the invasion of Ukraine, which alarmed NATO allies hiding in Russia’s shadow and destabilized military alliances. reinvent yourself After years of lethargy.
All but two of the participating countries are NATO members, including the newest Finland, and the exercise is hosted by Germany. Sweden, which seeks to join NATO, is also participating, and Japan is also participating as an observer.
“Air power is the first response in a crisis,” Luftwaffe commander Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhardts said in an interview after Monday’s exercise. It is the first of 12 days of exercises at six bases across Germany. “As first responders, we can respond really quickly.”
Dubbed “Air Defender 2023,” the exercise was planned long before Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began last year, but it certainly has its roots in the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014. in annexation. General Gerhardts, who planned the war game, described it as a “warning bell.”
After 30 years of military budget cuts, air power Vulnerability to NATOHowever, things began to change after the Russian invasion, with Kiev’s leaders claiming their country as Europe’s first line of defense against Moscow.US finally agrees to let Ukrainian pilots train on US-made aircraft F-16 fighter This was part of a broader campaign among some NATO countries to supply Ukraine with fighter jets, not only for the current conflict, but to deter Russia for years to come. Thing.
Since the invasion of Ukraine, NATO has moved from relying on what the military called deterrence by retaliation — promises to come to the defense of member states and push back occupying forces — to deterrence by denial to try to prevent occupation in Ukraine. . first place. That means more troops and equipment permanently based on Russia’s borders, more integrated war plans by allies, and more military spending.
Where warships take weeks to set sail from the United States, or days to mobilize ground forces in Europe, fighter jets can be scrambled within minutes.
Monday’s flight included a pit stop at an air base in the former Soviet republic of Lithuania, where fears of Russia loom large, especially to show how quickly fighter jets taking off from Germany can arrive. . Similar measures will be taken in other countries once under Moscow control: Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic.
“In the end, it’s all about credible deterrence,” General Gerhardts said. “We don’t want to be too aggressive, but we want to show that we are strong.”
In preparation for the war games, the United States has sent more than 110 aircraft and thousands of military personnel, mostly from the National Guard, over the past two weeks.
Kentucky Air National Guard pilot Maj. Will Dyke said, “It’s almost unprecedented to see so many aircraft and personnel moving here in such a short period of time.”
“The way we train is to be ready on the fly,” he declined to say how the training would unfold against Russia.
Germany’s largest military transport force is based at Wunstorf Air Base, which hosted an air show on Monday. His two flagship aircraft, a freighter and a tanker, make up the bulk of his fleet. The sky’s centerpiece fighters are stationed at other bases as well.
“If you think about a real war, this might be where German transport planes leave,” said the German military who oversaw the construction of a new refueling station for jets, one of which could burn out. Officer Major Peter Pohlman said. One million liters of fuel is required each day during exercises.
Douglas Barry, a military aerospace expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said exercises like this would need to test whether aircraft from so many countries can communicate directly with each other.
General Gerhardts agreed that this remained a major challenge, but detailed a demonstration of actual coordination between German and NATO commanders a few days earlier.
NATO fighters scrambled 15 times over the course of a week to intercept Russian planes that strayed from the airspace of the three Baltic states. Lithuanian Ministry of Defense He said on Monday that it was likely Moscow’s reaction to exercises in Germany.
And last weekend, German forces, which were chasing the plane from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad between Poland and Lithuania, quickly handed over command to NATO officials and deployed the fighters. A few hours later, a passenger plane over Germany lost radio contact with air traffic controllers, and General Gerhardt’s forces regained control of what was considered an internal patrol.
This military exercise will be a turning point for Germany. It has long failed to spend the 2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense that NATO members pledge. At the end of last year, the Berlin government said it expected to reach the 2% target by 2025.
But some of Ukraine’s allies remain skeptical, with Germany delaying arms deliveries to the country despite Prime Minister Olaf Scholz’s touting of a new era after the February 2022 Russian invasion. It mentions that Scholz is committing €100 billion ($113 billion) to Ukraine. strengthen the German armyhas been repeatedly warned of serious deficiencies in the state and readiness of its equipment and weapons systems.
If the ongoing multilateral exercises are successful, they will show Germany’s willingness to play a leading role in NATO, said prominent German military blogger Thomas Wiegold.
The president of Lower Saxony, Germany, where the Wunstorf air base is located, said the exercise was “necessary”.
“It’s certainly much clearer today than when it was first planned,” said Weil. “Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we know that the European security architecture we have assumed for decades is no longer working, so national defense must take on greater importance. ”
But the nature of air defense training appears to be aimed at showing Russian President Vladimir V. Putin the dangers of taking NATO too far.
“I would be very surprised if the alliance had not considered this as part of its overall messaging strategy,” said Barry, an analyst in London.
Amy Gutmann, the US Ambassador to Germany, predicted that it would likely attract the attention of leaders around the world, and that “Putin is among them.”
Many of the skills that will be put to the test in Germany over the next few days have been honed by Western pilots and air support personnel over the past two decades, particularly in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Air Force commander Colonel Rusty Ballard. rice field. 182nd Airlift Wing, based in Peoria, Illinois.
But at one point on Monday, with a trio of fighters, bombers and cargo planes flying over 10,000 feet above the ground, even some of the most experienced pilots find the adjustments a bit daunting. rice field. “Brain teasers” were Flt’s way. Royal Air Force Lieutenant Mark Jenkins said:
Lieutenant Jenkins piloted a huge A400-M Atlas freighter in the center of a wedge formation, followed by American and German fighters and American bombers. Two other formations flew over him at 15,000 and 20,000 feet for over an hour of maneuvering, air-to-air refueling training, and in-flight photography. Surrounding planes captured images of his cargo jet, now with tails painted in the colors of the German and American flags.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Captain Jenkins said in a later interview, sitting in the plane’s cockpit. “It’s really unusual to have so many aircraft working together.”
He declined to comment on events in Ukraine, but said he was “of course” watching the conflict.
“We are training in a tough environment,” said Capt. Jenkins. “My motto is to train hard. Fight easy.”
Christopher F. Schutze Contributed to the report from Berlin, Stephen Urlanger from Brussels and Matthew Mpork Big from London.