IDF’s largest-ever aerial exercise takes off, with India on board
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IDF’s largest-ever aerial exercise takes off, with India on board

In first, New Delhi sends aircraft to 11-day Blue Flag drill, aimed at improving technical skills, diplomatic cooperation

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

  • A German pilot gets into an Israeli fighter jet ahead of the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
    A German pilot gets into an Israeli fighter jet ahead of the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Israeli traffic controllers take part in the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli traffic controllers take part in the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • A fighter jet takes part in the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
    A fighter jet takes part in the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Indian Air Force personnel speak with Israel Air Force Brig. Gen. Eyal Grinboim on the Ovda air base as part in the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Indian Air Force personnel speak with Israel Air Force Brig. Gen. Eyal Grinboim on the Ovda air base as part in the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • The flags of Israel, the Israeli Air Force, the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Poland and India fly in the Ovda air base as part in the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
    The flags of Israel, the Israeli Air Force, the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Poland and India fly in the Ovda air base as part in the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • A C130J transport plane takes part in the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
    A C130J transport plane takes part in the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • A fighter jet takes part in the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
    A fighter jet takes part in the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • A pilot salutes inside an Israeli fighter jet ahead of the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
    A pilot salutes inside an Israeli fighter jet ahead of the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

Air forces from eight countries on Sunday kicked off the Blue Flag exercise in southern Israel — the largest aerial exercise ever held by the Israel Defense Forces.

Teams from India, the United States, Greece, Poland, France, Italy and Germany are taking part in the exercise, along with Israel, the army said.

It is the first time that India is taking part in the biennial exercise, a sign of the improving military ties between Jerusalem and New Delhi.

The Indian Air Force sent a C-130J transport plane. Other countries sent fighter jets, transport planes and refueling aircraft.

According to the IDF, more than a thousand people — including pilots, commanders and technical personnel — are taking part in the 11-day exercise, which is being held out of the Israeli Air Force’s Ovda base, north of Eilat.

“The participating nations arrived in Israel in their own aircraft and will practice different situations and scenarios,” the IDF said.

The countries will square off against the IDF’s so-called Red Squadron, which acts as an enemy force in the exercises.

According to the army, the goal of the exercise is to both improve technical ability and to strengthen the “diplomatic cooperation between the countries.”

Fighter jets take part in the international Blue Flag exercise in early November 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

It is Israel’s third time hosting the international biennial Blue Flag exercise, beginning in 2013, with it growing larger each time.

The planning for the 2017 exercise began approximately a year ago, the IDF said.

This year, the military scaled back the amount of time the planes will be flying and the areas in which they will operate “in order to not interfere with civilian flights to Eilat,” the army said.

The IDF stressed that Blue Flag is not tied to any particular ongoing security situation. The military also said that people should not be alarmed by increased aerial activity.

Editor’s note: The article incorrectly indicated the number of air forces participating in the exercise. It has been corrected.

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