The cooperation between the Israeli and Hellenic Air Forces continues to grow: mutual exercises in both countries, simulated dogfights and side-by-side helicopter sorties. Just several weeks ago, IAF "Sufa" (F-16I) fighter jet squadrons returned from a combined training in Greece alongside the Hellenic Air Force. "We are very happy about the cooperation with the Hellenic Air Force", said Maj. Y', a pilot at the 201st ("One") Squadron which operates the "Sufa" aircraft.
The IAF placed an emphasis on the content of the exercise early on in order to utilize the challenging Greek topography as best as they could. "It was an interesting experience", said Maj. Y'. "The Greeks were attentive and helped us improve the quality of the exercise".
Advantages & Opportunities
The cooperation with the Hellenic Air Force has various advantages, one of which is the geographical distance between the two countries. "The distance allows us to drill long flights similar to those we fly during operational activity", emphasized Maj. I', Head of the IAF's Europe & Asia International Affairs Branch. "The exercise in Greece provided us with the opportunity to fly over expansive terrain, and the tall mountains helped simulate the operational theatre".
An additional advantage in the joint exercise is that Greece is a member of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and that its air force operates according to NATO combat doctrines. These doctrines are different from the ones utilized by the IAF, which provides an opening for mutual learning. "The difference between the air forces is seen in the mode of training: NATO members fly with a large amount of formations in the sky, while the IAF aims for smaller four-aircraft formations".
The Foundations of Success
Another difference between the air forces exists in the field of exercise management: in the IAF, the exercise is managed by a central control station; in the Hellenic Air Force, a mission commander is at the head of the exercise. As part of the combined exercise, Greek fighter jets arrived at the exercise from various airbases across the country. However, in the IAF, all the aircraft flew in from the same airbase after being briefed together. "We are very focused in our training", explained Maj. Y'. "We get down to the finest details whenever a four-aircraft formation takes off on a sortie – we believe that each aircrew member has to be as professional as possible in the cockpit in order to achieve the best results possible".
The difference between the air forces is also evident in debriefing: while the Hellenic Air Force's debriefs focus on mission success – and a mission is considered successful even in a case where several aircraft are intercepted – the IAF considers interceptions out of the question. "We have a significant goal, and that is bringing each one of our aircraft back home safely", explained Maj. Y'.
Besides the obvious advantages in a combined exercise with a country such as Greece, flight in a foreign country is also of great significance for the participants. In an exercise of this sort, the IAF is exposed to a different culture, both in terms of people and organization – the aircrew members speak in a foreign language during flight and the two air forces learn together.
"The IAF and its Greek counterpart have a similar character. This is one of the advantages in our cooperation with Greece – both forces are dynamic in mentality, open and honest", elaborated Maj. I'. "We have a cultural similarity – we share the same Middle Eastern conventions and put everything on the table. Working this way is convenient". Maj. Y' added: "The Greeks helped us with everything we needed, from sharing combat doctrines and flight tactics, through familiarization with the foreign terrain and to advice regarding operating alongside 'Patriot' batteries. We established good relationships which acted as the foundation for the success of the entire training".
The number of joint exercises held by the IAF alongside the Hellenic Air Force changes from year to year. "Once in a while, the IAF Fighter Division participates in long-distance exercises in Greece", said Maj. I'. "Fighter jets drill long-distance flight which includes aerial refueling. When the fighter jets reach Greece, they are required to strike a target while the Greeks act as the opposing force".
In the coming year, the IAF is due to participate in the "Iniochos" international exercise held in Greece, and the 109th ("Valley") Squadron which operates the "Barak" (F-16 C/D) aircraft is expected to fly to Greece for an additional joint exercise alongside the Hellenic Air Force. "The Greeks have a warm disposition, just like us", concluded Maj. Y' with a smile. "They love working hard and aren't afraid of last-minute changes – I'm excited to fly with them again".