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NEWS | June 12, 2023

128th Air Refueling Wing Supports Air Defender 2023 Exercise

By Master Sgt. Kellen Kroening, 128th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

NAVAL AIR STATION KEFLAVIK, Iceland – The 128th Air Refueling Wing helped facilitate an air bridge leading to exercise Air Defender 2023, the German-led, live-fly NATO exercise with 235 aircraft from 25 nations and over 10,000 personnel throughout Europe June 12-23.

The 128 ARW KC-135 tankers acted as a flying gas station, using a boom system to transfer fuel to the receiving aircraft, maximizing operational efficiency and reducing transit times.

By providing fuel to the transport aircraft, the KC-135 tanker ensures they can reach their destinations without frequent stops for refueling. This capability is especially valuable when transporting time-sensitive cargo or operating in areas where fueling infrastructure is limited or unavailable.

“The whole point of this [exercise] is to integrate with our multinational partners and show that we can seamlessly work as one large coalition force,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Brandyn Dietman, deputy director of air refueling with 128 ARW.

The air bridge is vital for exercises like Air Defender 2023, where multiple NATO-member air forces and allied countries come together to enhance cooperation, interoperability and readiness. To simulate real defense scenarios, it is imperative that forces can rapidly deploy to different locations.

“Moving 100 aircraft over the ocean in the matter of four or five flying days is a monumental feat,” said Dietman. “Fighter aircraft can’t make it over by themselves, so they need the tankers to build the air bridge to help them get over.”

Air Defender 2023 is the largest air forces redeployment exercise since NATO was founded. 

Engaging in air bridge operations during the AD23 exercise highlights the 128 ARW’s capabilities and demonstrates the U.S. commitment to its allies. 

“The hard work of everybody working together, whether it’s your unit-level personnel putting together the aircraft, putting the plans together, making sure the funds are full, making sure that everything is going to happen, is awesome,” said Dietman. “From a year’s worth of work that we’ve put into this, I’m super proud of everyone at the 128th Air Refueling Wing and the hard work they’ve done.”



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