Photos: A-10s Back in Europe for NATO’s Defender ’23

Ten A-10s and dozens of Airmen deployed to Europe this week in support of the Army-led DEFENDER 2023 exercise, and nine more mobility aircraft will do the same in the coming weeks. 

The A-10s, from the Air Force Reserve’s 442nd Fighter Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., are split between Zaragosa Air Base, Spain, and Thessaloniki Air Base, Greece, providing close air support during the exercise, which is intended to build readiness and interoperability between U.S. and NATO allies. 

A-10s from the Maryland Air National Guard previously deployed to Europe in May and June 2022, participating in last year’s DEFENDER exercise and operating from Norway, North Macedonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Estonia. A-10s also recently deployed to the Middle East under U.S. Central Command.

This year’s exercise involves 17,000 troops from 26 different nations, including roughly 9,000 U.S. service members. It is divided into three phases—Swift Response, Immediate Response, and Saber Guardian—each focused on different objectives. 

“This annual, nearly two-month long exercise is focused on the strategic deployment of U.S.-based forces, employment of Army prepositioned stocks and interoperability with European allies and partners,” Sabrina Singh, deputy Pentagon press secretary, said in an April 6 briefing. 

While the A-10s have already arrived and started participating in the exercise, more USAF aircraft are set to deploy in the next month: Six C-17s from the 62nd Airlift Wing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and three C-130s from the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. 

Those aircraft will primarily operate out of Aviano Air Base, Italy, according to a U.S. Air Forces in Europe release. 

In addition to the aircraft, the Air Force is also deploying support Airmen to support DEFENDER 23—air mobility teams from the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing will head to Aviano, Zaragosa, and Larissa Air Base, Greece. 

Air mobility teams consist of personnel who offer aerial port, aircraft maintenance, and command and control capabilities outside of the usual structure. Such teams are likely to be crucial to the Air Force’s development of Agile Combat Employment, the concept of scattering small teams of Airmen and aircraft to operate from remote or austere locations.