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IDF's largest aerial military exercise tests coordination with other countries

A main objective of the exercise is to enhance mechanisms of coordination for a real war-time scenario

A major international air drill known as the “Blue Flag” exercise is currently underway in southern Israel, involving nearly 70 planes from eight different countries including Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Poland, India, and the United States in addition to Israel.

Taking place at Ovda air base in the Negev desert, it is the largest joint air exercise ever to take place in Israeli skies and is the largest such drill to take place anywhere in the world this year.

India, France and Germany are all first time participants, and the participation of Germany’s Luftwaffe represents a special milestone, considering the tragic history it shares with the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

"I was there in the shelter when 6 German Eurofighters entered the shelter at Ovda, it was emotional and exciting for me. I think that the past is the past, we cannot change it, but the relationship now between the German air force, and Israel is based on trust," Col. I, Commander of the Ovda Air Base, told i24NEWS.

Lt. Col. Gero Von Fritschen, Commander, German Air Force’s 73rd Tactical Air Wing also said that the German Luftwaffe’s arrival in Israel was “a very special moment.”

"A lot of people volunteered to go to Israel, we were all very excited, and everybody was very happy when they got elected to go down to Israel," Fritschen said of Germany’s participation in the drill, which began on November 5 and will run until November 16.

IDF

The main objective of the exercise is to improve the combat readiness of the participants and to enhance mechanisms of coordination between the air forces in a plausible war-time scenario.

In a frequent simulation practiced during the exercise, the various participating nations are members of a “Blue Team” attempting to protect a given area. At the same time, the“Red Team,” which is composed of Israeli F16s, is tasked with hitting targets both on the ground and in the air while replicating flight patterns and tactics used by enemy fighter jets.

Officers told i24NEWS that the exercise does not involve simulating combat against a particular enemy nation. Instead, the exercise challenges all the air forces to form a strategic coalition by uniting the “Blue Force” against “Red Force” unmanned aerial vehicles, patriot missiles and F-16 fighter jets, despite the different military techniques used by each each country’s air force.

"In this exercise, we are doing everything together, starting from the planning of the scenarios, briefing them, going out, flying them together, landing, and then debriefing them together," the commander of Ovda Air Base explained.

Thus, with each country providing not only its own aircraft and distinct flying techniques to the exercise, each air force is better able to glean more from one another.

The United States for its part, dispatched the largest delegation composing of seven jets and two hundred personnel.

India sent over one plane, a C130J Super Hercules transport aircraft along with a commando force. The Indian team will practice flying its C130J at low altitudes while attempting to evade radar, then dropping the commandos behind enemy lines and later extracting them.

Tsahal

The existing diversity of techniques used by each air force will however, create hurdles to overcome in the exercise.

"You put people in an unfamiliar scenario working with unfamiliar assets,” remarked Lt. Col. Benjamin "Skynyrd" Freeborn, Commander from the 510th Fighter Squadron in the US Air Force. “You can't predict how that's gonna happen so I think dealing with the uncertainty is probably the biggest challenge.”

Nevertheless, participants understand the necessary value of such difficulties in the exercise.

“We're not gonna fight by ourselves, so any kind of partnership and the ability to build those human relationships to go wherever we're called is very important,” said LT. Col. Freeborn.

An F-15 pilot from the 133rd Squadron in the Israeli Air Force expressed similar remarks.

“It's very important to build a personal relationship not only with the country, but with the pilot that's sitting inside the jet underneath the helmet, because those are also the pilots that we're gonna meet in the air,” the pilot told i24NEWS.


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