Israel to host massive aerial exercise with F-35 jets taking part for first time
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Israel to host massive aerial exercise with F-35 jets taking part for first time

IDF’s fourth biannual Blue Flag drill to launch next week; at least four foreign countries will participate

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

Israeli fighter jets are checked in the Israeli Air Force's Ovda base north of Eilat on October 31, 2019, before the launch of the next week's international Blue Flag exercise, which is being hosted by Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli fighter jets are checked in the Israeli Air Force's Ovda base north of Eilat on October 31, 2019, before the launch of the next week's international Blue Flag exercise, which is being hosted by Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli Air Force next week will host its biannual Blue Flag aerial exercise, with the F-35 stealth fighter jet taking part in the drill for the first time, the military said Friday.

Over 1,000 people were due to participate in the 12-day exercise, with at least four countries sending air crews to take part.

The drill, scheduled to kick off on Sunday, November 3, and continue through November 12 will be hosted at the air force’s Ovda base, north of Eilat.

“The exercise is of the utmost strategic importance and has a tremendous influence on the Air Force, the IDF and the State of Israel,” the military said in a statement.

The United States, Greece, Germany and Italy — each of whom had participated in previous Blue Flag drills — sent air crews to Israel ahead of the exercise. Other countries were also planning to send smaller teams to observe the drill, but not participate, the IDF said.

The flags of the five countries participating in the Israeli Air Forces international Blue Flag exercise are displayed at the Ovda air base north of Eilat on October 31, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

This would be Israel’s fourth time hosting Blue Flag since its inception in 2013, and it has become more complex over time.

For the first time, the F-35 fighter jet was due to take part in the exercise, the military said.

“As part of the exercise, dozens of flights are due to be carried out, in which the [Israeli] Air Force, along with the other air forces taking part, will simulate air-to-air combat, and air-to-ground combat, dealing with the threat of advanced surface-to-air missiles and scenarios of combat in enemy territory,” the IDF said.

An Israeli fighter jet is checked in the Israeli Air Force’s Ovda base north of Eilat on October 31, 2019, before the launch of the next week’s international Blue Flag exercise, which is being hosted by Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)

“This deployment provides an opportunity to conduct joint tactical flights against a variety of threats, using advanced technology,” the military said.

The Israeli Air Force credits the Blue Flag exercise and other international aerial drills with improving its capabilities as it both allows Israeli pilots an opportunity to see how other air forces operate and also teaches them to effectively communicate with foreign pilots and crews, something that may come in handy if Israel ever participated in a multi-national military operation.

On a larger, strategic level, these international exercise also strengthen diplomatic relations between the participating countries.

Israel’s previous Blue Flag exercise was held in November 2017, and was the IDF’s largest ever aerial drill, with seven foreign countries taking part.

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