The sheer numbers alone are impressive: 25 nations with 250 aircraft, and some 10,000 service members have come together in Germany to re-confirm their commitment to the transatlantic alliance. The Eurofighter, Tornado, A400M, and A330 MRTT, all Airbus Defence and Space platforms, are playing a crucial role in Air Defender, the largest deployment of NATO air forces in the alliance’s history, which is taking place from 12 to 23 June, 2023. 


As a staunch believer in a strong European pillar of NATO, I am very thankful for this signal of solidarity in challenging times. Air Defender not only demonstrates the strength of the transatlantic partnership, it also shows the interoperability of allied forces. Never has the importance of collaboration and interoperability been greater than today.”

Airbus Defence and Space CEO Mike Schoellhorn


Air forces of Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Finland, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the US have been training together in Air Defender. Under the command of the German Air Force, the goal of the exercise is to optimise and expand cooperation among participating nations, while demonstrating strength within the NATO alliance: to train the joint response capability of the 25 partner air forces in a crisis situation. The scenario is modelled on an Article 5 assistance scenario. 


Around 200 individual missions and three combined air operations are taking place per day.

AirDefender A400M Tornado

@team_luftwaffe / Christian Timmig


A total of 250 platforms, including 23 different aircraft types, are stationed in Germany and  US Air Forces in Europe locations, as well as at NATO bases such as Wunstorf (Lower Saxony), Schleswig/Jagel & Hohn (Schleswig-Holstein), Geilenkirchen (North Rhine-Westphalia), Spangdahlem (Rhineland-Palatinate), Lechfeld (Bavaria) and Neuburg (Bavaria). For the exercise, hundreds of these aircraft deployed from the United States, where they are assigned to units of the US Air National Guard.

The exercises are conducted mainly in three flight corridors over Germany, but some participating nations are also conducting operations from Čáslav (Czech Republic) and Volkel (Netherlands), where for example NATO's Multinational A330 MRTT Fleet (MMF) is flying two to three missions a day.


Wunstorf: refuelling station and logistics hub

As the main hub and starting point for transport and tanker aircraft, Wunstorf Air Base plays a key role in the Air Defender 23 exercise. With the 62nd Air Transport Wing, Wunstorf is home to the 41 A400M transport aircraft delivered to Germany, which are set to grow to 53 in the future. After initially being used for logistical airlift, the A400M is increasingly being deployed in tactical airlift as its capabilities grow, for example for medical evacuation (MedEvac) or aerial refueling.

Flight Lieutenant Mark Jenkins, Exchange officer from the RAF who is flying with the GAF A400M, explains the use of the aircraft by both air forces.


“We have been preparing Air Defender several weeks in advance because it is the first time that we are providing a real 24/7 service to the customer, including weekends, with all the constraints that this implies in the supply chain. It was a really complex exercise to prepare with all stakeholders to ensure the support was going to be provided when needed. We have been able to solve any single critical need from the customer and the feedback from the German Air Force is that they are quite satisfied because they are able to reach any single mission with no problems.”
Álvaro Mateo, Material manager, Services Support Centre, Airbus, at Wunstorf air base


For those who protect us: Airbus’ Services teams ensure the aircraft are mission-ready

Wunstorf is also home to an approximately 150-strong Airbus support team which works alongside the German Air Force engineers and personnel on a daily basis. This same integrated approach can be found at other customer air bases: from Royal Air Force Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, UK, and Melsbroek in Belgium, to Zaragoza in Spain and Orléans–Bricy in France. Airbus´ Services teams provide end-to-end support around the clock, true to Airbus’ motto: Always on! This support ranges from on-aircraft and management systems maintenance to spares provision, quality control and post-flight issues analysis. 

“During this Air Defender exercise we have extended the operating times that we are normally providing. We have specific teams which are available 24/7 that whenever the customer needs us, we are here even outside the normal working times”
Peter Kalak, Head of Services Support Centre, Airbus, at Wunstorf air base


Eurofighter takes centre stage at Hohn and Neuburg

Air combat procedures are crucial for securing air sovereignty and warding off potential threats, for example with the Eurofighter securing NATO's Eastern Flank. The combat aircraft and pilots participating in Air Defender assume different roles within the scenario – either those of friendly forces or those of the enemy. The Eurofighter aretaking the role of offensive air defence and use their multi-role capabilities to engage enemy aircraft and targets on the ground, with four RAF Typhoon operating out of at Hohn Air Base and the German and Spanish Eurofighter training and flying sorties together from Neuburg, north of Munich. Spain’s Ala 14 fighter wing from Albacete had participated in the exercise for the first week before returning home. During Air Defender 23, Eurofighter jets from Nörvenich Air Base near Cologne as well as Laage Air Base near Rostock also contributed to the effort.

The Royal Air Force has used Agile Combat Employment to prove the Eurofighter's ability to deploy quickly 

Eurofighter from the German and Spanish Air Forces have been training and flying sorties together


Jagel: Home of the German Tornado

Home of 51 Tactical Air Wing Immelmann for almost three decades now, Jagel is also a main base for the combat aircraft involved during Air Defender. Schleswig/Jagel is one of two wings in the German Air Force currently operating the Tornado aircraft, which despite its age, as Air Defender 23 proved, can still contribute significantly to NATO-led operations. 


Air Defender Photos and Videos Discover




For those who make this world a safer place

For those who make this world a safer place