Over 250 NATO warplanes, including about 100 from the US Air Force, will defend the skies of Germany against a major simulated invasion of a NATO country this week. 

The air exercise, dubbed Air Defender 23, began Monday and is the largest training event of its type in NATO history. Roughly 10,000 personnel from 23 countries will fly hundreds of missions against a massive, if simulated, onslaught of air attacks from an “eastern European alliance” that has already invaded a nearby nation and now threaten port cities in northern Germany – essentially a test of the treaty organization’s Article 5, the collective defense of any one member.

According to the parameters of the simulation, “OCCASUS” is that eastern European military alliance. In a conflict that “spans the line between the Arctic and the Black Sea.” OCCASUS has increased its presence in the Baltic nations. n a “special operation,” OCCASUS has just swiftly overrun a small, non-NATO country known as Otso. 

Sound familiar? That’s the background for Air Defender 23.

Though planning for the event goes back five years, the two-week show of force has heightened relevance against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We are showing that NATO territory is our red line, that we are prepared to defend every centimeter of this territory,” said German Air Force Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz told the German public broadcast station ZDF. “But we won’t, for example, conduct any flights toward Kaliningrad. So this is intended to be defensive.”

Subscribe to Task & Purpose Today. Get the latest military news and culture in your inbox daily.

Gerhartz also said in April that “NATO is a pure defensive alliance,” but, “if somebody attacks one country, they attack us all.”

On the U.S. side, around 100 aircraft and 2,000 Air National Guard personnel from more than 40 units have deployed to the exercise, as well as active-duty components. The entire exercise involves F-35s, F-16s, Eurofighter Typhoons, drones, transport aircraft, helicopters and aerial refueling jets. It also includes the often scheduled-to-be-retired A-10, the first of which began arriving in Germany on May 31.

Planning for Air Defender 23 first began in 2018. But since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the potential invocation of NATO’s Article 5 has become an enduring topic of discussion. Article 5 commits all NATO members to the collective defense of each member. NATO, of course, is not directly involved in Ukraine, although many member nations are helping arm Ukraine with Patriot missiles, and Abrams tanks, among other weapons.

Air Defender 23, then, is a demonstration of NATO’s abilities to meet a challenge similiar to the real one in Ukraine. 

“It will demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt the agility and the swiftness of our allied force in NATO as a first responder,” U.S. Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann said. “I would be pretty surprised if any world leader was not taking note of what this shows in terms of the spirit of this alliance, which means the strength of this alliance.”

The latest on Task & Purpose