For Maurice Labonde, Air Defender was a unique experience. And not just because he participated in the exercise as a reservist of the German Air Force. "It was very special to see your own products in action," says Labonde. By "your own products," he means the Eurofighter and Tornado fighter jets, the A400M military transport and A330 MRTT multi-role tanker transport aircraft, all of which are produced by Airbus and were in action at Air Defender alongside 250 aircraft. The objective of the exercise with 10.000 participants from 25 nations: To optimise and expand the cooperation of allies based on a simulated attack on NATO territory.

"Everyone wanted Air Defender to be a success"

At the Joint Force Air Component Headquarters (JFAC) in Kalkar, near the Dutch border, Labonde helped to plan and coordinate large Composite Air Operations: "As a member of the planning team for Linked Air Warfare Operations, I helped design defensive, offensive and support missions within a defined area, taking into account the capabilities and limitations of the various attack and support components to enhance their combined effectiveness.” And that was no mean feat: "The continuous presence of aircraft naturally brings a certain complexity: When does who need to be refueled and how? Which mission requires which aircraft? And: what are the other aircraft doing in the meantime?"

To make sure all this runs smoothly, Labonde and his colleagues at JFAC planned the flight movements 48 hours in advance and communicated them to the air crews 24 hours in advance. The be-all and end-all: digital communication in the data network, says Labonde: "We linked the different IT systems of the participating nations, so that they were able to transmit the information promptly and in encrypted form." That was quite a challenge, but it worked quite well, according to Labonde: "Active soldiers and reservists, the international liaison officers of the operational squadrons - everyone worked hand in hand so that we could plan all the missions smoothly - and thus did our part to ensure that Air Defender ran safely and successfully."

Air Defender_Christian Timmig

250 aircraft participated in Air Defender 2023. Copyright: Bundeswehr / Christian Timmig

Airbus aircraft in action @ Air Defender

A total of 250 aircraft took part in the NATO exercise Air Defender 2023 from June 12 to 23, 2023. Among them the Eurofighter, Tornado, A400M and A330 MRTT. They were part of the total of 23 different aircraft models that the air forces of Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Finland, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States sent to the  largest exercise in NATO history. The U.S. Air Force alone deployed 100 aircraft to Germany.

Check out the Air Defender highlights video here.