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.
A pilot in the Israel Air Force gets ready for take off (ANNA AHRONHEIM)A pilot in the Israel Air Force gets ready for take off (ANNA AHRONHEIM)
“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.
An Israeli F-15 belonging to Squadron 133 Knights of the Twin Tail gets ready to take off at Uvda airbase (ANNA AHRONHEIM)An Israeli F-15 belonging to Squadron 133 Knights of the Twin Tail gets ready to take off at Uvda airbase (ANNA AHRONHEIM)
“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.