By Yaakov Lappin
Israel completed its fourth international air exercise in southern Israel, Blue Flag 2019, earlier this month – a drill that planners have described as being the most advanced of its kind to date.
Towards the end of the exercise, held from Nov. 3 to Nov. 14 at Uvda Air Force Base, just north of Eilat, other jets from the Israel Air Force were busy striking Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip as rockets flew in the direction of Israeli cities.
Yet the air forces of the United States, Germany, Italy and Greece joined Israeli flight crews and completed the joint training as planned.
“In 2017, we called Blue Flag our biggest drill. Now, in 2019, we are describing this drill as being the most advanced,” Lt. Col. (res.) Tal Herman, head of the IAF’s Blue Flag management team, told JNS in the midst of the exercise.
“What makes it advanced is that, first of all, this is the first time that fifth-generation aircraft – the Israeli F-35 and the Italian F-35 – are taking part. We focused on integrating these planes and linking them up with fourth-generation planes, like F-15s and F-16s, and the German and Italian Eurofighters,” he explained.
“There are lots of flying computers, and they all have to talk to one another,” he added.
An Israeli Air Force F-35 participating in the international Blue Flag drill held from Nov. 3 to Nov. 14, 2019, at Uvda Air Force Base, north of Eilat. Credit: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.
The introduction of the F-35 to the exercise helped make that task easier since the international aircraft all have NATO’s Link 16 communications system installed onboard – a system the IAF has not previously had until the arrival of the Israeli F-35, which comes with the system installed.
This means that for the first time, Israeli jets connected to the NATO Link 16 network.
“It has been very successful so far,” stated Herman. “We made major efforts to enable this connection. It is a breakthrough, and it could have operational dividends –if and when needed,” he said referring to the possibility that in future, Israeli F-35 jets would be able to work smoothly with NATO F-35s on joint missions if necessary.
Meanwhile, the IAF’s Eitam command and control aircraft flew with its Italian counterpart; both of these platforms were produced by Israel Aerospace Industries.
The drill consisted of a Red Team – Israeli jets playing the enemy – challenging the Blue Team in the air, as well as simulated missile batteries on the ground “targeting” the Blue Team.
Blue Flag featured fighter-jet transport planes on the Blue Team taking on Red Team aircraft, including F-16s, drones and a Patriot system simulating surface-to-air missiles.
We wanted this to be advanced in the sense that the Red Team simulates assets that are relevant to the arena today, and not only the established threats from past,” said Herman. The Red Team also had F-35s as a result.
“We want the Red Team to be responsive and not come only with a prior game plan. This team has a controller, and he wants to win, so he challenges the Blue Team. But safety comes first. We didn’t come to defeat the Blue Force; we came to train it….”
In a statement, the IAF said that “the goal of the exercise is to simulate extreme war and coalition flight scenarios in the most realistic manner. The exercise is of high strategic importance and has a significant influence on the international strategic plans of the State of Israel.”
The featured photo shows an IDF F-35 participating in the Blue Flag exercise. Credit; IDF
The video below:
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 480th Fighter Squadron, 52nd Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, taxis on the runway at Uvda Air Base, Israel, October 30, 2019.
The F-16 will be taking part in Blue Flag, a biennial training event that builds and maintains defensive interoperability and cooperation between militaries.
This year’s Blue Flag involves military members from Israel, Germany, Greece, Italy and the U.S.
Video by Ziv Sokolov
U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv
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