Assets from Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States all participated in AD23, with up to 10,000 soldiers expected for the exercise, alongside the planned 220 aircraft involved.
Of those, four Finnish Air Force F/A-18C Hornets from HävLLv 31 were deployed to Hohn for the duration of the exercise, two of which are seen in the photo left, about to depart Hohn on the first day of the exercise.
Also taking up residence at Hohn were eight U.S. Navy aircraft from the USS Gerald R Ford Carrier Strike Group - two EA-18G Growlers from VAQ-142, two F/A-18F Super Hornets from VFA-213, two F/A-18E Super Hornets from VFA-31, one F/A-18E from VFA-37, and one F/A-18E from VFA-87, all part of Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8).
120th Fighter Squadron/140th Wing Colorado Air National Guard
The planning for the exercise began in October 2021 when Luftwaffe Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz demonstrated a EF2000 Eurofighter to U.S. Air National Guard Director, Lt. Gen. Michael Loh, at Neuburg Air Base, Germany, the visit serving as the kick-off event for the two air chiefs to begin planning a major air-to-air exercise in Europe.
Dubbed Air Defender 2023, the trans-Atlantic reinforcement of NATO allies and partner nations was planned to consist of a two-week exercise within the European theatre, with the German Air Force
Known as “The Red
Devils,” the 107th Fighter Squadron is a component of the 127th Wing, and is a part of the Michigan Air National
Guard, based at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. The unit deployed six A-10s, which it has flown since 2009.
The A-10 is more commonly known as the Warthog, or just simply 'Hog'.
A primary component of exercise AD23 was the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. The SPP has been successfully building relations for 30 years and now includes 88 partnerships with 100 nations around the world. “Relationships in the ANG are like water to a fish - one can’t operate without the other,” said Col. Rusty Ballard, the commander of the 182nd AW and the C-130 detachment component commander during AD23 at Wunstorf Air Base. “The exchange of information, tactics, techniques, procedures, ideas and history will forever benefit the allied NATO countries involved in this massive exercise.”
USS Gerald R Ford Carrier Strike Group (CVN-78)
Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8)
#92-1533 C-130H 187th AS/153rd AW Wyoming ANG (Torch 72)
Operating alongside the South Dakota ANG F-16s were seven Vipers from the Colorado Air National Guard based at Buckley AFB. Unlike the 'Lobos', a variety of schemes were worn by the 120th, including one aircraft that had recently been acquired from the Alabama ANG and still wore its bright red vertical fin and AL tailcode. The photo left and those below show the various schemes worn by the unit.
The largest contingent of visiting aircraft at Hohn were 16 F-15C Eagles from two United States Air National Guard units - the Louisiana 122nd Fighter Squadron/159th Fighter Wing (left), and the Massachusetts 131st Fighter Squadron/104th Fighter Wing (right), both of which brought eight aircraft to Air Defender.
With the exercise being led by the German Luftwaffe, two of their aircraft received special markings to commemorate the historic event. An Airbus A400M (serial 54+21) from Lufttransportgeschwader 62 (LTG62 - 62 Air Transport Wing), and a Panavia Tornado IDS (serial 44+69) from Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 51 (AG51 - Tactical Air Wing 51) having the honour. Both aircraft were adorned with different tail markings on each side, one with the United States 'Stars and Stripes' and the opposite side with the German Federal flag. The two aircraft are captured in the photos seen left, and in the header photo above.
122nd Fighter Squadron/159th Fighter Wing Louisiana Air National Guard 'Bayou Militia'
Four Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornets deployed from the carrier, seen here are Strike Fighter Squadron 37 (VFA-37) on the left, and VFA-87 (right)
The Finnish Air Force's goal from Air Defender 23 was to develop their fighter tactics and to enhance interoperability with its NATO allies in multinational, large-force composite air operations (COMAO). The Hävittäjälentolaivue 31 (HävLLv 31 - 31 Fighter Squadron) detachment of four F/A-18C Hornet's from Kuopio/Rissala air base further enhanced Finland's high level of interoperability with Allied air forces, the exercise demonstrating Finland's interoperability, and providing the detachment with an opportunity to gain practical experience in planning and executing multinational composite air operations.
Flying the A-10C Thunderbolt II, the 107th Fighter Squadron is one of
the oldest flying units in the U.S. Air Force.
#93-1562 C-130H 158th AS/165th AW Georgia ANG (Torch 03)
As mentioned above, GFD - Gesellschaft Fur Flugzieldarstellung are headquartered at Hohn - the company currently employing a workforce of around 250 people, of which over 100 are former flight crew members of the Air Force and Navy, who are deployed as Learjet pilots or operators as well as civil simulator instructors for the Eurofighter, Tornado and A400M simulators of the German Air Force. Operating a fleet of 15 specially equipped Learjet 35A/36A providing target simulation and flight inspection.
Amongst the large number of Air National Guard (ANG) C-130s and Luftwaffe A400Ms operating out of Wunstorf, was this single Alenia C-27J Spartan from Escadre 902/Baza 90 Aviatie de Transport, of the Romanian Air Force, seen in the photo left, on approach to Wunstorf druing the exercise.
The ANG element within AD23 was led by the Illinois ANG's 182nd Airlift Wing's Major Joseph Chambers, 182nd Operations Support Squadron chief of tactics. He explained the unit's participation is a display of commitment, and their readiness to defeat hostility toward the U.S. and their partner nations. “Air Defender is testing NATO’s strength in deterrence,” Chambers said. “The Air National Guard is reassuring our allies of the U.S. resolve to the NATO charter.”
175th Fighter Squadron/114th Fighter Wing
South Dakota Air National Guard
Seen on finals into Hohn's Runway 08 is a C-130J-30 Hercules from the 181st Airlift Squadron of the Texas ANG. The aircraft was bringing in spare parts for a Hercules from the 154th TRS/189th AW Arkansa ANG that had an engine problem.
WUNSTORF AIR BASE (ETNW):
Although Wunstorf is located outside of the three exercise areas, as the only German Air Force base for transport aircraft, Wunstorf was the ideal location when it came to air transport and air refuelling assets, making Wunstorf the perfect logistics hub for the Air Defender 2023 exercise.
As the home to Lufttransportgeschwader 62 (LTG-62 - 62 Air Transport Wing) and the Airbus A400M transport aircraft, it was predestined as a location for the partners' transport aircraft, and the main hub and starting point for the transport and tanker aircraft - Wunstorf playing a key role in Air Defender 23.
As would be expected for such a large exercise, a huge amount of fuel was required, with Wunstorf alone, expected demand was between 400,000 and 500,000 litres of AVGAS per day. So even before the exercise started, engineers from the Special Engineer Regiment 164 from Husum, ensured there was an adequate fuel supply in place. Commencing 6th June, the airfield saw the largest mobile field tank farm in Germany slowly take shape in the build-up to AD23 - capable of holding 2.4 million litres of kerosene, and supplementing the existing tank farm already located at the air base.
The 2,600 civilian and military personnel stationed at Wunstorf were joined by around 600 American, Romanian, and Hungarian servicemen and women during the exercise. During the deployment, the base became the exercise’s central logistics hub - USAF Boeing C-17 Globemasters flying material and personnel from the United States, where it was then flown to the other exercise bases by the Air National Guard fleet of Lockheed Martn C-130 Hercules aircraft.
Two twin-seat Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets from VFA-213 'Black Lions' also deployed
The Magyar Légierö (Hungarian Air Force) 59/1 Harcászati Repülő Század (59 HRS) otherwise known as 1st Squadron/59th Tactical Fighter Wing from Kecskemét Air Base, brought along five Saab JAS-39 Gripens to Air Defender 23, including the two-seat aircraft #44, which had been acquired in 2016 to replace an aircraft lost in an accident, and which previously served with the Swedish Air Force as #39842 (the aircraft is seen in the photo, below right).
The aircraft in the photo right, shows aircraft #38, a single-seat JAS-39C on finals to Jagel's Runway 07 on 13th July. Note the portside underwing droptank, which has a Tiger painted on it, the 59 HRS being a proud member of the NATO Tiger Association.
Of course the resident Taktisches
Luftwaffengeschwader 51 "Immelmann" (Tactical Air Force Wing 51, TLG-51) was much to the fore at Jagel during AD23. Formerly known as Aufklärungsgeschwader 51 (Reconnaissance Wing 51, AG-51), TLG-51 is a tactical reconnaissance wing of the German Air Force.
TLG-51 operates both the Tornado IDS, such as this specially marked aircraft depicted in the photo left, and also the Tornado ECR version.
Two Typhoon FGR4s from 1 (Fighter) Squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth participated during the first week of the exercise. Currently deployed as part of the RAF detachment serving in Estonia on Operation Azotize at Amari Air Base under the auspices of 140 Expeditionary Air Wing, 1 Squadron took over the NATO air policing role from IX (B) Squadron, for a period of two months, taking time out to participate in Air Defender. The two aircraft involved wore the NATO/OTAN insignia on the vertical tailfin as seen in the photo left.
SCHLESWIG-JAGEL AIR BASE (ETNS):
The second primary base for fighter operations during Air Defender was Jagel air base. Built in the 1930s as a Luftwaffe airbase. In the late 1950s, Jagel was a naval aviation base, used by Marinefliegergeschwader 1 (MFG-1, Naval Wing 1). In 1994, Jagel became a German Air Force base and home to Aufklärungsgeschwader 51 (AG-51, Reconnaissance Wing 51), which was later renamed to Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 51 (TLG-51, Tactical Air Force Wing 51), which is still in residence today operating the Panavia Tornado.
Alongside the based Tornados of TLG-51, a small number of Turkish F-16s and Hungarian JAS-39 Gripens took up temporary residence, together with Air National Guard A-10s and F-16s.
using all its available national military airfields in the exercise, exercising its role as a strategic hub for collective defence. Intended to test interoperability between a variety of NATO allies in the European theatre, honing in on C2 missions and interactions between intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), cyber, and space assets, as well as aircraft, Air Defender 2023 utilised not only current Luftwaffe bases, but also several ‘reserve’ airfields.
“Our goals for this largest deployment exercise since the foundation of NATO are comprehensive,” said the Chief German Air Force, Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz. “We want to demonstrate the agility and swiftness of Air Forces as a first responder and showcase NATO Air Power. In addition, we as the Luftwaffe show that we can plan, organise and execute such a large exercise. The collaboration of 24 Nations hones our interoperability and enables a credible deterrence against a potential aggressor.”
In summary, Air Defender 23 was a huge strategical operation which took years of planning. Whether we will see an exercise of its like again, I have my doubts. It may seem as if it were some form of Sabre Rattling by the United States and its NATO partners, but bear in mind that the planning stages were well underway prior to the events in Ukraine. It was undoubtedly a success, with large numbers of aircraft transitting from CONUS, proving that the United States has the capability to support such operations. The fact that ANG units were involved so heavily also emphasises the strength of their capabilities to deploy in large numbers. Although I doubt it will happen again anytime soon, we can but hope that it does - it was certainly a highlight for the aviation enthusiasts in western Europe, who flooded to northern Germany to witness it.
#90-1798 C-130H 180th AS/139th AW Missouri ANG (Torch 76)
The three exercise areas were North - extending over parts of Schleswig-Holstein, Bremen and Lower Saxony, together with airspace over the Bay of Kiel in the Baltic Sea, and over the North Sea. The Eastern area extended from the Baltic Sea to large parts of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg, Berlin and Saxony; whilst the Southern area was located over Swabia in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, and Rhineland-Palatinate.
The exercise areas rotated during the day, so that in the east (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), south (1 p.m. to 5 p.m.) and north (4 p.m. to 8 p.m.) saw increased activity for a few hours, although that didn’t mean that it was quiet outside of these periods, as regular flight operations over and above those associated with Air Defender continued unabated.
“With AD23 we practice a wide spectrum of Air Operations via large daily COMAOs, underscoring Germany’s capability to ensure command and control of multinational Air Forces,” said Lieutenant General Gerhartz. “Another important aspect is to facilitate continuation training for Air Force units, reinforcing our cooperative bond with the eastern flank of NATO by conducting Air Defence missions in Czech Republic airspace to reinforce the cooperative bond with the east,” he added.
Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8), is a United States Navy aircraft carrier air wing based at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia. The air wing is attached to the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) as part of Carrier Strike Group Twelve (CSG-12)
The two photos above depict an F-16 wearing the 'Have Glass' scheme (left), and the aforementioned ex-Alabama ANG Viper recently taken on by the unit
#95-1001 C-130H 109th AS/133rd AW Minnesota ANG (Gofer 53)
The German Air Force ensured command and control of air operations during the exercise, combining AD23 with the German-led Multinational Air Group Exercise (MAGDAYS 23), and linked to two NATO exercises (RAMSTEIN DUST 23 and RAMSTEIN GUARD 23). The collective defence exercise focused on Germany’s ability to command and control a multinational air force operating from German airfields, with the multinational aircraft flying in three areas in the north, east and south of the country - each one capable of supporting composite air operations.
AIR DEFENDER 2023
According to NATO, Air Defender 2023 is the overall umbrella to coordinate and harmonise the German Multinational Air Group Exercise (MAGEX) 2023, with potential contributions from the United States and other NATO and national exercise efforts. It aims to enhance interoperability, offer training opportunities in the European air theatre, and demonstrate NATO’s agility and determination to reinforce the overall deterrence posture in the air domain along the NATO Concept for the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area (DDA).
Air Defender 2023 was the largest deployment exercise in NATO's history, 12-23 June seeing air warfare operations in European airspace trained under the leadership of the Luftwaffe. Some 200 aircraft came together, with European airspace being the lynchpin.
Air Defender 2023 served as a challenging training scenario featuring air warfare operations for friendly and allied air forces, the aim being to optimize and expand cooperation between nations and their armed forces. Air Defender brought together the air forces of NATO and its allies in one exercise, the project arising from a purely defensive training intention, with the ability to react and the combine strength in the air. During the exercise, Germany exercised its role as a collective defensive hub within Europe - Air Defender 2023 uniting nations and strengthening collective values such as freedom and democracy.
107the Fighter Squadron/127th Wing Michigan Air National Guard
The 'Lobos' of the 175FS/114FW South Dakota Air National Guard, stationed at Sioux Falls, sent seven F-16Cs to Air Defender, bolstering their agile combat employment (ACE) skills during the exercise. Following their participation in AD23, the aircraft then made the short flight to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany before returning home to the CONUS.
Two aircraft operating with the MA ANG that wore markings from other units were this ex-Kadena based 18 Wing aircraft coded 'ZZ', and another coded 'OT', which is an ex 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron/53rd Wing aircraft formerly based at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
#91-1237 C-130H 142nd AS/166th AW Delaware ANG (Torch 75)
Lufttransportgeschwader 62 (LTG62 - 62 Air Transport Wing)
1 (Fighter) Squadron
Royal Air Force Lossiemouth
Two Boeing EA-18G Growlers from Electronic Attack squadron 142 (VAQ-142) based at Whidbey Island, Washington
A small Royal Air Force contingent of four British Aerospace Typhoon FGR.4s consisted of forward deployed aircraft and personnel from Cyprus and Estonia, for the exercise, including a U.S. Navy exchange pilot, Captain Hanrahan, who is on exchange with the RAF squadron currently based at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, conducting operations in the Middle East Joint Operational Area. Capt Hanrahan, together with an RAF pilot, flew two Typhoons to Germany, where they joined a pair of Typhoons and personnel from 1(Fighter) Squadron, which is currently deployed to Estonia, conducting the NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission.
HOHN AIR BASE (ETNH):
One of the main bases utilized for Air Defender was Hohn, in the district of Rendsburg-Eckernförde, in Schleswig-Holstein. The air base at Hohn Air Base is the former home of Lufttransportgeschwader 63 (LTG-63, Air Transport Wing 63), which from May 1968 through to 2021, operated the Transall C-160D transport aircraft, the last unit to operate the type in the Luftwaffe. Since the disbandment of LTG-63, the base has operated as an alternate airfield for the Luftwaffe, with a small number of personnel attached to Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 51 (TLG-51, Tactical Air Force Wing 51) stationed at nearby Jagel air base. The infrastructure at Hohn is permanently maintained by Gesellschaft Fur Flugzieldarstellung (GFD), with its fleet of 14 Learjet 35As and 36As, supporting the Bundeswehr on target demonstration tasks and electronic warfare training.
The skies above northern Europe saw increased activity during mid to late June, as the largest air exercise in NATO’s history took place. Air Defender 23 saw the German Bundeswehr's largest live flying exercise in more than 40 years, with over 220 participating aircraft conducting complex scenarios over Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic. In 2018, Germany had agreed to serve as a framework nation for a Multinational Air Group (MAG), working in conjunction with its NATO partners to establish operationally ready large-scale flying units - with one of the requirements being to demonstrate an initial operational capability (IOC) in 2023 - 'AIR DEFENDER 23'
The F-16 in the photo top left, is the same one depicted in the larger image above - the aircraft painted differently on each side of the aircraft. The photo on the right shows an aircraft wearing the old-style scheme worn by virtually every USAF/ANG F-16 for many years before the 'Have Glass' scheme came into being.
#92-0553 C-130H 192nd AS/152nd AW Nevada ANG (Torch 71)
Over 440 U.S. Airmen from multiple states and Puerto Rico served at Wunstorf during AD23. The 182nd AW sharing the sky with nine C-130 Hercules and Super Hercules units from Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Texas and Wyoming.
“As the lead planner and lead C-130 unit, we had the job to coordinate for 12 different Air National Guard units,” said Chambers. “We are also supporting the Joint Tactical Air Control and Combat Communications missions at Air Defender 23.”
AD23 enabled Airmen to apply their multi-capable skills with personnel from various wings, along with NATO and state-partners - integrating with airmen from Germany, Romania and Lithuania, performing full-scale readiness training and completing their mission-essential tasks.
131st Fighter Squadron/104th Fighter Wing Massechusetts Air National Guard
One of three Turkish Block 40 Vipers deployed for Air Defender, #88-0036 seen on finals to Jagel's Runway 07, with a close-up of the aircraft's underwing tank
The Turkish Air Force participated in the exercise with 56 personnel and three Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcons from the 151st Jet Squadron (151 Filo), 5th Main Jet Base (5 AJU) based at Merzifon. During the exercise the Turkish 'Vipers' conducted both Multi-Role and SEAD missions.