Eight air forces par­tic­i­pate in Is­rael’s largest aerial ex­er­cise ever

Close to 100 air­craft will fly in two-week Blue Flag drill

The Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By ANNA AHRONHEIM

Close to 100 air­craft, in­clud­ing fighter jets from Ger­many, and hun­dreds of sup­port crew from eight na­tions are tak­ing part in the largest air-force ex­er­cise ever held in Is­rael.

“This ex­er­cise is an ex­pres­sion of the ever-grow­ing in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion we share with our for­eign part­ners,” Is­rael Air Force com­man­der Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin said.

Crews from the US, Greece, Poland, France, Ger­many, In­dia and Italy are tak­ing part in the two-week Blue Flag drill, hon­ing their skills in plan­ning, tar­get­ing and co­or­di­nated com­mand and con­trol.

“The coun­tries par­tic­i­pat­ing in the drill have un­der­stood the re­gional chal­lenges and un­der­stand Is­rael’s role in the Mid­dle East,” a se­nior IAF of­fi­cer told the me­dia at Uvda Air Base, near Ei­lat, on Wed­nes­day, adding that this was es­pe­cially true for coun­tries like Ger­many, France and In­dia, which are par­tic­i­pat­ing for the first time.

“There may not be a cur­rent coali­tion, but we now have the base for one,” he said.

Maj. Hach­meis­ter, the Ger­man del­e­ga­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tive, told The Jerusalem Post that he felt “hon­ored” to be one of the first Ger­man pi­lots to fly in Is­rael.

He said it was ex­cit­ing to fly in a multi­na­tional drill with non-NATO part­ners, which gives pi­lots an op­por­tu­nity to per­form mis­sions they have never done be­fore, adding with a smile that Ger­man and Is­raeli pi­lots drilled an hour-long dog­fight to­gether.

“We have some sim­i­lar stan­dards, but tac­ti­cally it can be very dif­fer­ent,” he told the Post.

An­other se­nior IAF of­fi­cer fa­mil­iar with the dog­fight told the Post that the Ger­man pi­lots, fly­ing the Eurofighter Ty­phoon, are ex­tremely skilled.

“It is very mean­ing­ful to see the Ger­mans here. The past is the past and now we have great re­la­tion­ships with them,” the of­fi­cer said.

Blue Flag, whose plan­ning be­gan in Jan­uary 2016, is de­signed to sim­u­late a range of re­al­is­tic en­gage­ments, with par­tic­i­pants con­duct­ing hun­dreds of sor­ties in airspace over the south­ern Arava desert. Dur­ing the ex­er­cise, air crews will en­counter var­i­ous com­bat sce­nar­ios, in­clud­ing of­fen­sive counter-air strikes, sup­pres­sion and de­struc­tion of enemy air-de­fense sys­tems.

Uvda Air Base hosts squadrons train­ing in the Negev and has an ad­vanced train­ing cen­ter. Is­raeli forces par­tic­i­pat­ing in the drill in­clude the F-15 Twin Tail Knights Squadron, the F-16I Or­ange Tail Knights, the F-16C First Squadron and the C-130J Ele­phants Squadron, along with sup­port­ing Black­hawk he­li­copters. IAF drones are also tak­ing part.

Uvda is also the base of the “Fly­ing Dragon,” or “Red Squadron,” which plays the role of enemy air­craft. The “enemy” Red Forces, which has Re­motely Pi­loted Air­craft Sys­tems, op­er­ates ground weapons, such as mis­sile launch­ers and radars, and de­ploys in­fantry sol­diers who act as ter­ror­ists.

Greece, Poland and the United States are par­tic­i­pat­ing with F-16s, France with Mi­rage 2000D fighter jets, Ger­many with the Eurofighter, Italy will use multi-role fight­ers and In­dia will use C-130Js.

Ac­cord­ing to the IAF, the drill not only al­lows Is­rael to build re­la­tion­ships with other coun­tries but al­lows the IAF to see where it stands in its train­ing and gives it the abil­ity to learn dif­fer­ent prob­lem-solv­ing meth­ods, con­firm­ing that there have been mi­nor al­ti­tude and aerial bound­ary de­vi­a­tions dur­ing the drill.

Ma­jor “Echo” of the Hel­lenic Air Force said that while the com­bi­na­tion of na­tions with such a high tac­ti­cal level means there is a high level of ex­per­tise, fly­ing over the Arava poses sev­eral chal­lenges.

“It’s very easy to get dis­ori­en­tated over a desert,” he told the Post, ex­plain­ing that pi­lots spend ex­tra time study­ing the ter­rain.

Is­rael main­tains broad co­op­er­a­tion with Greece’s air force, and has par­tic­i­pated in sev­eral mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with the Mediter­ranean coun­try, in­clud­ing the Inio­hos ex­er­cise in March.

While not the first time fly­ing along­side the IAF, for Capt. Kalogeridis, fly­ing in Is­rael holds spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for his 335 Tiger Squadron. “Our squadron was es­tab­lished in 1941 at the Tel Nof Air Base, so it is an honor to be back where we were born.”

Lt.-Col. Richard Hecht, the head of the IAF’s In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs Branch, told the Post that Is­rael is “us­ing aerial diplo­macy as a bridge for re­gional sta­bil­ity.”

The IAF has also taken part in the Red Flag aerial ex­er­cise at Nel­lis Air Force Base in Ne­vada for the past two years, fly­ing along­side pi­lots from Jor­dan, UAE and Pak­istan.

Ac­cord­ing to a se­nior IAF of­fi­cer privy to the drill’s plan­ning, Norkin has said “his vi­sion is to see Is­raeli, Jor­da­nian and Egyp­tian planes fly side by side.”

“I will fol­low my com­man­der’s vi­sion, but it is com­pli­cated, es­pe­cially with the sen­ti­ment on the ground,” he said.

When asked by the Post about fu­ture Blue Flag drills, he had one word: “In­shal­lah,” us­ing the Ara­bic term for God will­ing.


BLUE FLAG 2017. An IAF pi­lot gets ready for take­off (left), and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the eight par­tic­i­pat­ing na­tions pose in front of an Is­raeli F-16 (right).

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