In the context of the international cooperation efforts of the Israeli Air Force (IAF), which culminated in Exercise Blue Flag (2013), a joint training exercise of the IAF and the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) of Greece was conducted in December 2014.
The exercise, designated “Thunder Storm 2014”, was held at the IAF Advanced Training Center at Uvda airbase in southern Israel, which regularly hosts international and multinational exercises and visiting detachments of foreign air forces. In the past, units of various air forces enjoyed the hospitality of the Advanced Training Center, including USAF, the Polish Air Force, the Romanian Air Force, the Italian Air Force, HAF and others.
Exercise Thunder Storm 2014 was limited in scope and included, on the Israeli side, several F-16I Sufa fighters from the Knights of the Orange Tail Squadron stationed permanently at Hatzerim airbase, and on the Greek side – four F-16C/D fighters (designated Barak in IAF) from the 330th Squadron, 111th Fighter Wing, stationed at Nea Anchialos airbase.
The training exercise had been planned a few months in advance and lasted one week. The guests arrived by direct flight from Greece on Sunday, December 7, 2014 and are scheduled to leave Uvda airbase by the end of the week. The training activity focused on air combat encounters by combined Israeli-Greek teams. Air combat is a basic skill every IAF pilot is required to possess, and IAF has an illustrious tradition and decades of experience in this operational activity. Over the years, IAF presented excellent achievements, on a global scale, in air combat encounters against the Arab air forces, including the shooting down of more than 80 Syrian fighters during the First Lebanon War (1982) with no losses sustained on the Israeli side.
Major Dovev, deputy commander of the Knights of the Orange Tail Squadron, explained that the joint exercise is a part of the longstanding and successful cooperation with the Hellenic Air Force. “The objective of the training exercise is to learn and share knowledge and professional practices with our Greek colleagues. So far, the results have been excellent, and we learned quite a bit from our Greek guests – working procedures, combat doctrines and so forth.” Major Dovev added that “Training exercises of this type enable us to gain knowledge and combat experience (while operating) alongside and opposite a foreign air force. The Squadron feels it has improved professionally pursuant to the introduction to different and unfamiliar ways of thinking and operating methods.”
“Unlike previous exercises, this time the training activity was very intimate – a squadron opposite a squadron – so the learning was more intensive and the dialog was more productive. Additionally, social relations are established, which make it easier to accomplish the training objectives.”
The Knights of the Orange Tail Squadron is a veteran IAF squadron. It was established in 1953 and flew an extensive range of fighter aircraft, from piston-engine Spitfires and Mustangs to jet-engine Meteors and Ouragans. In 1971, the Squadron took delivery of the US-made F-4 Phantom fighters which it flew out of Hatzerim airbase. In 2006 it became the IAF’s third squadron flying the modern F-16I Sufa fighters, which it flies to this day.
The deputy commander of the HAF 330th Squadron, Dimitrios Stefanidis, said “I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and teach. The training was intensive but enjoyable. We already feel a professional improvement pursuant to the training exercise. Both air forces are experienced and use similar aircraft, which provides a solid foundation for the type of training activity we are conducting.” Deputy Squadron Commander Stefanidis added that the men of his squadron have taken advantage of the training exercise to learn from the extensive experience of the Knights of the Orange Tail Squadron in the field of air-to-surface strikes.