The US, Greek, Polish and Italian air forces will participate in an Israeli Air Force combat exercise later this month, American Ambassador Dan Shapiro confirmed. The Times of Israel reported earlier this month that this will be the largest international air drill ever held in Israel, and it comes amid high tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.
Shapiro on Monday flagged an article in Defense Update, an Israeli online defense magazine, which reported that the “Blue Flag” exercise will take place at Ovda air base in southern Israel and will involve over one hundred aircraft. The report was anonymously sourced until Monday, when Shapiro linked to it on his official Twitter feed, saying “More on this in the days to come …”
Defense Update reported that the exercise is in lieu of past joint Israeli-US-Turkish exercises which have stopped because of the deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations.
The Times of Israel reported on November 6 that the Israeli Air Force will conduct a joint drill with a bevy of some 1,000 pilots from the US, Italy and Greece. The exercise will last two weeks, the IAF announced.
The Blue Flag drill will be modeled after the US Air Force’s annual Red Flag desert exercise. The more than 100 aircraft on hand will participate in simulated dogfights and surface-to-air exercises in what will be the largest international drill ever held in Israel, requiring the IAF to conduct extensive preparations.
“A moment before the start signal, Israeli squadrons are embarking on a preparatory workshop during which they’ll take off, maneuver and drill for four full days so as to ready themselves, as much as possible, for the impending international exercise,” the IAF said in a statement on its website early this month.
Israeli pilots have also been practicing their in-flight English. Blue Flag is a highly advanced drill and we have to conduct it in English – something that we aren’t accustomed to,” said Second Lieutenant Omri, who is in charge of one squadron’s preparatory workshop.
The IAF has been drilling extensively in recent years for the possibility that it will be called upon to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Last month, as talks over Iran’s nuclear program kicked off in Geneva, the IAF conducted several large exercises over the northern border and the Mediterranean Sea, with fighter aircraft practicing a simulated strike on a distant target.
Those flights included midair refueling, coordinated strikes to an exceptionally long distance, and dogfights. They were carried out over the territorial waters of Greece, which will be among the countries participating in Blue Flag this month.