The Astral Knight exercise has been held regularly since 2019. The operation is aimed at reinforcing the US and allied air defence capabilities in the European theatre. Particular attention is paid to the interoperable cooperation between different branches of the military: the air assets (USAF Europe - the commanding entity), the land forces (in case of which, the US Army operates the Patriot batteries), and the Navy. One could expect that data exchange within different systems would be of key importance here. These processes need to be rapid and flawless.
The brief release on the deployment of the Patriot systems issued by the Polish Ministry of Defence also mentions the fact that Poland is going to become the second user, globally, of that system in its latest variant, tailored to work with the IBCS battle command system enhancing the interoperability among the air defence elements. The system is being procured within the framework of the Wisła programme (with its first phase in progress now), it is also being considered as a possible option for the Narew SHORAD system.
The releases published by the US suggest that this year’s edition of the Astral Knight exercise would see involvement on the part of the Polish airbases primarily, as well as other locations in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, and the UK. The operation is planned to happen in late September, with the tactical phase taking place between 17th and 25th September. Polish National Cyberspace Security Center (Narodowe Centrum Bezpieczeństwa Cyberprzestrzeni - NCBC) would be dealing with securing the exercise systems-wise, among other entities. This body is responsible for supporting the Polish military and USAF Europe as well. The Szymany airfield in the Mazury region has been listed as one of the exercise locations.
It could be assumed that the exercise is going to involve both the aviators (including the Polish Air Force employing the F-16 and the Su-22, USAF, with F-16, F-15 and B-52, as well as the KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-10 Extender tankers, and the E-3 Sentry AWACS platforms), as well as the air defence units (including ones subordinated to the 3rd “Warszawska” Air Defence Missile Brigade) and the soldiers of the radar units. The undertaking itself, apart from the field operations, would also involve simulation systems. What’s interesting, the international Tobruq Legacy 20 air defence exercise is organized in parallel, in Lithuania (a year ago it took place in Poland).
The exercise is aimed at developing and carrying out sustainable, regional, integrated air/missile defence operations, to develop the architecture and integrate the C2 systems, and to coordinate and provide interoperability of land- and air-based capabilities. (...) Astral Knight 20 would make it possible to test the mission command capacity with the USAF Europe.
Meanwhile, the last year’s edition of the Astral Knight operation took part in the Southern flank, involving Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy. It also saw the participation, alongside the F-16s, of the US F-35A jets. This year the exercise’s focus is placed in Central-Easter Europe. The operation has been planned a long time ago and it has no relationship whatsoever with the current political situation. The Polish “Rzeczpospolita” daily was publishing information on the operation, among other media outlets, already.