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128th ARW provides air bridge in support of Air Defender 2023

  • Published
  • By Air Force Master Sgt. Kellen Kroening
  • 128th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

The 128th Air Refueling Wing facilitated an air bridge June 3 leading U.S. Air Force aircraft to exercise Air Defender 2023. The German-led, live-fly NATO exercise is scheduled to include 235 aircraft from 25 nations and more than 10,000 personnel throughout Europe.

The 128th ARW KC-135 Stratotankers 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, 128th ARW deputy director of air refueling.



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 practice for 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,” Dietman said. “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, running June 12-23, is the largest air forces redeployment exercise since NATO was founded.

Engaging in air bridge operations during the AD23 exercise highlights the 128th 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,” Dietman said. “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.”