NATO has started its annual maneuver to defend the European territory with nuclear weapons. A spokesman confirmed this on Monday in Brussels.

According to the alliance, up to 60 aircraft will be involved in the “Steadfast Noon” exercise over the next two weeks – modern fighter jets, but also surveillance and tanker aircraft and long-range B-52 bombers. The scene is in particular the airspace over Belgium, Great Britain and the North Sea. The Bundeswehr is also there.

NATO emphasizes that the maneuver is not a reaction to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine since February. No sharp weapons were used either. The exercise is “a routine, recurring training measure that is not related to current world events”. Spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said, “This exercise helps ensure the Alliance’s nuclear deterrent remains secure and efficient.”

NATO did not provide any information on the exercise scenario or details. According to military experts, the maneuvers that regularly take place in October practice how to safely transport US nuclear weapons from underground magazines to the aircraft and mount them under the fighter jets. However, the practice flights are then flown without the bombs.

US nuclear weapons are said to be stored in Italy, Belgium, Turkey, the Netherlands and Büchel in Rhineland-Palatinate. The so-called nuclear sharing of NATO envisages that in an emergency they will also be dropped from aircraft by partner countries and then, for example, turn off opposing armed forces. Germany has PA-200 Tornado fighter jets ready for this.

In contrast to previous “Steadfast Noon” exercises, this year NATO will inform about the start of its own accord. In alliance circles, this is justified by the fact that this time it should be shown more than usual that NATO is well prepared for a horror scenario such as a nuclear war.

The illegal annexation of four occupied Ukrainian territories recently fueled new concerns about a Russian use of nuclear weapons. President Vladimir Putin then announced that they would defend it with all available means. However, opinions within NATO differ on how likely it is that Russian nuclear weapons will be used in Ukraine.

The environmental protection organization Greenpeace warned that a NATO exercise for the use of nuclear weapons in Europe was “not a routine exercise in these times, even if NATO would like to suggest this”. “In view of Putin’s threats, such a maneuver carries a high risk of further escalation right now. Public and non-public signs of de-escalation are therefore needed in parallel.”