Major air defense exercise begins in Germany, effects on civilian flights unclear

BERLIN (AP) — An air deployment exercise billed as the largest in NATO history and hosted by Germany kicks off Monday.

The Air Defender 23 exercise, which is due to run until June 23, has been planned for a long time, but serves to showcase the alliance’s capabilities in a context of high tensions with Russia.

Some 10,000 participants and 250 aircraft from 25 countries will respond to a simulated attack on a NATO member. The United States alone sends 2,000 members of the American Air National Guard and about 100 planes.

“The exercise is a signal – a signal first and foremost for us, a signal for us, the NATO countries, but also for our population that we are able to react very quickly…that we would be able to defend the alliance in the event of an attack,” German air force chief Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz told ZDF television.

Gerhartz said he proposed the exercise in 2018, believing Russia’s annexation of Crimea underscored the need to be able to defend NATO.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 prompted NATO to seriously prepare for the possibility of an attack on its territory. Sweden, which hopes to join the alliance, and Japan are also taking part in the exercise.

Assessments of the extent to which the exercise will disrupt civilian flights vary widely. Matthias Maas, the head of a German air traffic controllers’ union, GdF, said this “will of course have massive effects on the functioning of civil aviation”.

Gerhartz disputed this. He said the German air traffic control authority worked with the air force to keep the disruption “as small as possible”. He noted that the exercise is limited to three areas which will not all be used at the same time, and that it will be completed before the start of school holidays in any German state.

“I hope there will be no cancellations; there can be delays of the order of a few minutes here and there,” he said, insisting that a study cited by the air traffic controllers union assumes a worst-case scenario in bad weather. in which the army would not fly anyway.

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