NATO launched its biggest ever aerial war games today in a "show of strength" to Vladimir Putin.
The drill dubbed Air Defender 23 will involve an unprecedented 250 aircraft and 10,000 service members from 25 Nato and partner countries – including Japan and Sweden.
The first flights kicked off late morning at the Wunstorf, Jagel and Lechfeld air bases, a Luftwaffe spokesman said.
US Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann said the exercise would show "beyond a shadow of a doubt the agility and the swiftness of our allied force" .
She said the huge show of strength was intended to send a message to countries – including Russia.
"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, and that includes Mr Putin," she said.
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"By synchronising together, we multiply our force."
Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz of the German Luftwaffe Gerhartz insisted Air Defender was "not targeted at anyone".
He said they would not "send any flights, for example, in the direction of Kaliningrad" – the Russian enclave bordering Poland and Lithuania.
"The significant message we're sending is that we can defend ourselves," he said.
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"We are a defensive alliance and that is how this exercise is planned."
General Michael Loh, director of the US Air National Guard, said Nato's duties were at an "inflection point".
"A great deal has changed on the strategic landscape throughout the world, especially here in Europe," he said.
The exercise will focus on "supplementing the permanent United States presence in Europe" as well as providing training "on a larger scale than what was usually accomplished on the continent".
He said many of the pilots were working together for the first time.
"It's about fostering the old relationships that we have but also building new ones with this younger generation of airmen," he said.
"And so this is about now establishing what it means to go against a great power in a great power competition."
Asked about potential disruption to flights during the exercise until June 23, Gerhartz said they would do "everything in our power" to limit delays or cancellations.
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