Some 70 aircraft and approximately 1,000 personnel from five countries took part in the fourth biennial Blue Flag exercise hosted by the Israeli Air Force.
The drill, held from November 3rd to 14th at the Uvda Air Force Base, was the first international “fifth-generation” exercise held in Israel involving the F-35 aircraft, according to the IDF.
Along with Israeli F-15s, F-16Is, and F-35s, dozens of aircraft from the United States (12 F-16s), Greece (4 F-16s), Germany (6 Eurofighter Typhoons), and Italy (6 Eurofighters, 6 F-35s, and one Gulfstream G-550) took part in Blue Flag 2019.
The exercise simulated various combat scenarios between blue and red forces. The scenarios included air-to-air combat, air-to-ground combat, combat in enemy territory, and dealing with the threat of surface-to-air missiles.
In the first part of the exercise, the blue forces were tasked with protecting Israel’s skies against various enemy threats. “Sky defense is not common in NATO countries,” explained Lt. Col. M., Commander of the IAF 133rd Squadron. “We teach the international forces how to protect the country’s skies, just like we see it in our day-to-day operational activity in Israel.”
During the second week, the blue forces took off to attack targets in red force territory. “The blue forces have to utilize everything at their platforms’ disposal in order to perform their mission successfully,” continued Lt. Col. M. “The F-35 aircraft brings a significant advantage to the theater, which allows the other aircraft to carry on with their missions while handling incoming threats.”
The red force was made up of the IAF’s 115th Squadron and the Air Defense Array’s Patriot batteries, which acted as advanced SAM systems. “The red force provides a significant challenge,” said Lt. Col. Panagiotis Katsikaris, Commander of the Hellenic Air Force’s 335th Squadron. “The reds started out easy during the first few flights, but we noticed their tactics changing as the days went by. They operated differently each day, and we had to act accordingly. Thanks to our mutual operation, we learned valuable lessons with each day.”
Prior to the drill, the IDF said that “the exercise is of paramount strategic importance and will have a significant impact on the Israeli Air Force, the IDF and the State of Israel. The IAF is practicing and will continue to practice in collaboration with foreign air forces to maintain its competence and readiness, to strengthen the ties and interests between the forces and to encourage and strengthen the joint learning between the forces.”
“The cooperation will enable high-quality international training, mutual learning, and study of flight techniques, providing an opportunity to strengthen relations between the participating countries,” the statement added.
[Sources: The IAF Website, The Jerusalem Post, Israel National News]