November 17, 2017

Japan Air Self-Defense Force Aircrafts at Gifu Airbase

"Blue-Flag" 2017 Has Ended

The largest international aerial training exercise in the IAF’s history has come to an end. 1,200 participants, including aircrew members, maintenance, administration and support personnel and about 80 fighter jets from all over the world participated in the two-week long “Blue-Flag” 2017 exercise.

The exercise’s goal is to simulate extreme combat scenarios and coalition flights as realistically as possible. Eight countries participated in this year’s exercise, the third overall - Israel, the United States, Poland, Italy and Greece, and for the first time, Germany, France and India.

“We learn from international air forces and the experience they have gained from aerial activity around the world – this is how we improve our combat doctrine over the years”, stated Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, IAF Commander. “If we want to influence the reality we see in a decade, we must prepare together, create common solutions and establish an international plan”.

The Israeli participants included a “Baz” (F-15) squadron, a “Sufa” (F-16I) squadron and two “Barak” (F-16C/D) squadrons alongside heavy transport squadrons, helicopters, RPAVs (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicles) and electronic warfare. The US, Hellenic and Polish Air Forces arrived with variants of F-16 jets, the French Air Force with “Mirage 2000” jets, the German Air Force with “Eurofighter Typhoon” jets, the Italian Air Force with two variants of the “Panavia Tornado” and the Indian Air Force with a C-130J Super Hercules Transport Aircraft.

“The situation in the region is very unstable, and the arrival of seven countries who say that they believe in the State of Israel, the IDF and IAF, is a significant statement”, said Brig. Gen Amnon Ein-Dar, Head of Training & Doctrine Division.

While the fighter aircraft trained in Ovda AFB, Indian aircrew members and commandos participated in an Aerial Special Forces exercise in cooperation with the 103rd Squadron (“Elephants”) from Nevatim AFB and SAR Unit 669. The exercise was viewed by observers from countries nominated to participate in the "Blue-Flag" 2019 exercise. "Every division has international exercises, but the 'Blue-Flag' connects them all. This exercise is the climax of the IAF's international program", noted Brig. Gen. Ein-Dar.

“The ‘Blue-Flag’ exercise is a central event in the IAF, as part of which we operate and train a vast aerial force for two consecutive weeks”, stated Col. Itamar, Ovda AFB Commander. “The ability to host seven air forces, train and debrief together, cooperate, reflects our international status and national resilience. In the world we live in today, a state must have the ability to create coalitions and we want to learn from other air forces, strengthen our deterrence capability and exhibit the IAF to our participants”.

Attacking Together, Defending Together

The “Blue-Flag” training exercise simulated a continuous combat scenario, with 100 sorties flown each day, adding up to about 1,000 flights overall. Every day different targets were destroyed and, every action, success or failure affected the rest of the exercise. Throughout the exercise, the participants performed border protection, air-air battles and two-sided "Blue vs. Blue" sorties, in which the participating aircraft are divided into attackers and defenders and fight each other.

Hard Work
The IAF has hosted the "Blue-Flag" exercise twice before: once in 2013, when four different air forces were hosted in Ovda AFB, and the second time in 2015, in which five countries arrived.
The 133rd squadron, the exercise’s leading squadron, dictated the content of the “Blue-Flag” 2017 exercise. “We began working on the exercise a year ago; it is a massive exercise, of an extent that has never occurred here before. As the leading squadron, we’re responsible for the aerial aspect of the training – what the participants rehearse, which scenarios and missions they perform and what their rules are”, added Lt. Col. Nadav, Commander of the 133rd Squadron.

Aerial Ambassadors
Some of the exercise's main goals include improving operational capability, mutual learning and setting the infrastructure for the upcoming "Blue-Flag" exercises. Besides the tactical benefit the IAF gains from training with hundreds of international aircrew members, aircraft and weapons, there is also a strategic benefit.

"The 'Blue-Flag' helps position the IAF's status. We see each participant as an ambassador", elaborated Lt. Col. Guy, Head of the Training Branch in the IAF Air Division. Lt. Col. (Res’) Tal, Head of the “Blue-Flag” Management Team added: "The IAF is Israel's 'display window' and the direct encounter between the air forces is an inseparable part of forming strong, continuous relationships with other countries, near or far".

Around the World
The exercise has become a focal point of international interest, and the cooperation with the participating air forces has improved significantly “We’re very grateful for the opportunity to train with so many countries at once as we usually train with one country at a time. There's no way better way to learn how to do something than to have different perspectives”, shared Lt. Col. Benjamin S. Freeborn, Commander of the United States Air Force’s 510th Fighter Squadron (“Buzzards”), Aviano Air Base, Italy. “Because we generally don’t fight alone in the USAF, we focus on interoperability, meaning the ability to understand each other and work towards the same objective. It’s very important for us to arrive at an unfamiliar place and learn how to support each other”.

"The differences between flying in Israel and flying in Italy is the operational environment", said Lt. Col. G' from the Italian Air Force. "In Israel, we practice low-altitude flight against a variety of threats and scenarios which are very complex to perform in Italy. The fact that this year's 'Blue-Flag' has a large amount of countries enables us to share more information, learn more and improve our capabilities. The Italian Air Force has already trained a number of times in Israel, and the current exercise continues to strengthen our relationships".

Greece also participated in the exercise, arriving with F-16 fighter jets from the 335th "Tigers" Squadron, the Hellenic Air Force's oldest squadron. The Greek pilots learned that their participation in the exercise also has a historic meaning: the squadron was established in Israel 78 years ago, in Ekron AFB (now known as Tel-Nof) as a part of the British RAF. At the end of the exercise, the HAF pilots will visit the home of the squadron's original commander, who is 97 years and old and the oldest living Greek fighter pilot. As they celebrate, they will tell him of their experiences in Israel. "We feel honored to be here again, flying over Tel-Nof AFB escorted by Israeli F-15s. We can go back home and tell him about our experience", said Capt. Vassilios Kalogridis, an aircrew member from the squadron.

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