On April 4, 1949 the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington by 12 governments. Today, as NATO celebrates its 70th anniversary, we speak to Colonel Luis Villar of the Spanish Air Force. His division is responsible for establishing, planning and executing the NATO training and exercise programme that enables NATO’s Allied Air Command to accomplish its tasks.

Founded ‘to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law,’ NATO remains as relevant today as it ever was, says Colonel Luis Villar, head of the Training and Exercises Division at NATO’s Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany.

“For 70 years, NATO has been the strongest Alliance in history,” he says. “Thanks to the Transatlantic link, the history we have together and the values we confer, we have helped prevent conflict and helped maintain the safety of more than one billion people.

“The most important thing is the commitment that each ally provides to the rest of the Alliance. It’s the principle that an attack against one ally is an attack against all.

"That’s what helps guarantee the prosperity and security of NATO members, and allows everybody to live in freedom.”

Colonel Luis Villar

Colonel Villar says given the current unpredictable and unstable global security situation the need for NATO is as great as ever, and air power has a particular potency to bring.

“There’s no one single service that prevails over any other — everybody needs everybody. But the air power element has very defined and, in some cases, unique capabilities. The major contribution of air power is the speed, reach, agility, and flexibility in which it can be employed. We provide the initial foil to any attack because we are fast; we have a lot of agility and we can create a concentration of rapid force; speed also means we can operate in different areas with the same assets at any given moment. We have permanent missions, like air policing in the Baltic, and air power represents the first line of defence through NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defence, Airborne Early Warning and Alliance Ground Surveillance systems.

“What we do at Allied Air Command is bring together the contribution of all NATO members into allied air power that can be employed flexibly and responsibly, delivering military effect.”

Of course, within the air sector Eurofighter, as the backbone of several European NATO fleets, plays its part too. 

“It’s important to note that at NATO we are not equipment providers or contractors, what we do is to pull together the different weapons systems provided by Alliance members and integrate them to make a cohesive air power solution. However, in terms of Eurofighter I think it’s important that we have four of the Alliance nations [the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy] providing the same weapons system. That provides its own synergies with logistic support, and ways of operating between those air forces.

“The other thing with Eurofighter (as with other Alliance assets), is that it’s very interoperable. It operates very well with weapons systems provided by the other members of the Alliance.

 “In my view, interoperability is the most important quality, the fact that we can work together and enjoy the synergies is key. Obviously different aircraft have different capabilities and can be better for different situations, but acting together as one force, NATO can provide the perfect solution for whatever problem we face.”

Colonel Villar is also keen to stress that air power is only one element of NATO. He says: “We are a collective, a team, and like a football team, you need to have a defence, midfield and attack. You might have the best attack but if your defence is poor you won’t have the right balance and no-one will be happy.

Eurofighter jets in Estonia

“We have a number of separate branches: land, air, maritime, space, cyber, political, and we have excellent communication between them. The Alliance is all of these working cohesively together that creates the right team to protect the allies.”

Looking to the future, Colonel Villar has no doubt that NATO will continue to be a force for good. He says that the Alliance has grown stronger throughout the last 70 years.

“NATO is still hugely important because it protects the liberty and freedom of so many. People turn to us to see how we do things and how we project into other areas

"I think that in the years to come NATO will get even better, grow bigger and continue to help prevent conflict.”