Israel preps for massive air drill with US, Greece, Italy

IAF pilots conduct practice runs, brush up their English ahead of country’s largest-ever air exercise later this month

Elie Leshem is deputy editor of The Times of Israel.

Two Israeli F-15I 'Ra'am' fighter jets during maneuvers (CC BY-TSgt Kevin J. Gruenwald/USA/Wikimedia)
Two Israeli F-15I 'Ra'am' fighter jets during maneuvers (CC BY-TSgt Kevin J. Gruenwald/USA/Wikimedia)

The Israeli Air Force will conduct a joint drill with a bevy of some 1,000 pilots from three other nations in the Negev Desert later this month.

The two-week exercise will take place at the Uvda air base, near the southern resort city of Eilat, and will include air crews from the United States, Italy and Greece, the IAF announced Tuesday.

The drill, which has been dubbed “Blue Flag,” will be modeled after the US Air Force’s annual Red Flag desert exercise. More than 100 aircraft will be on hand to participate in simulated dogfights and surface-to-air exercises.

It 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.

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.

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