52nd FW kicks off flying ops for largest ever air deployment exercise

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Crystal Charriere
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The 52nd Fighter Wing, alongside 42 Air National Guard units (ANG) and 25 nations, is participating in Air Defender 23, the largest air force deployment exercise since NATO was founded, June 12-23.

The 480th Fighter Squadron is the only Air Force active duty unit participating in the collective defense exercise focused on Germany’s ability to command and control a multinational air force. The 480th FS is launching daily sorties throughout the exercise to practice their aerial response to adversary aggression alongside ANG and multinational partners.

“This is all about relationship building,” said Lt. Col. Nathaniel Hoffman, commander of the 52nd Operations Support Squadron. “Anytime you go into a complex combat environment, confusion is inherent. So, the more we can put ourselves in these scenarios in peacetime, we’re going to be able to do it when called upon. Ultimately, the goal is to provide opportunities to build these relationships with other units and be able to execute.”

In addition to flying in the exercise, the 52nd FW is hosting F-35s from the Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG) and F-16s from the Minnesota National Guard for the duration of the exercise.

“Why we’re here from Vermont, for us, it’s really about interoperability and integration,” said Col. Daniel Finnegan, commander of VTANG’s 158th Fighter Wing. “I’d like to thank the 52nd Fighter Wing for hosting us. They’ve been very critical to our ability to operate in this air space.”

Having permanent basing in Europe provides the United States military with strategic access vital in meeting our NATO commitment. The 52nd FW’s permanent presence, allows stateside Air National Guard and Reserve units to easily integrate with allies and partners throughout the region, as illustrated during AD23.

The 480th FS and VTANG are focused on exercising Suppression and Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) during AD23. 

“Our priority mission here at Spangdahlem (during the exercise) is suppression of enemy air defenses,” said Capt. Tyler Knickerbocker, an F-16 pilot assigned to the 480th FS. “It’s very important because it’s about supporting another entity. Our job is to go in there and make sure that nothing from the ground hurts them.”

The aircraft participating in AD23 from Spangdahlem AB are flying missions over German airspace, in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea regions.

“The German air force has done a phenomenal job of supporting all the unique communications and classification requirements,” said Hoffman. “We have 24/7 German IT support to enable constant mission planning and debrief capability, which is really where we gain the most insight. After execution, we need the ability to evaluate our success and that debrief capability is critical.”

AD23 is another example of Germany’s resolve and dedication to the defense of Europe, and another opportunity to show the strength and cohesion of the NATO alliance. U.S. European Command’s established network in Europe, is critical for timely and coordinated response during crises, while also making it easier for U.S.-based units to integrate with allies and partners in the event of a crisis.

Approximately 10,000 servicemen and women and 250 aircraft are participating across the continent. Continual exercises like AD23 and interactions between the U.S. and NATO allies and partners allows us to work together as a seamless team to address security concerns and allow all participants to contribute to international coalitions.