The "Blue Flag" exercise, held in Uvda AFB, has ended. Aircrews from five countries, 70 aircraft and approximately 1,000 participants took part in the fighter exercise, held once every two years. This iteration was the first to include the participation of fifth-generation aircraft, including the "Adir" (F-35I).
The countries which arrived to train are Germany, with the Eurofighter Typhoon; Italy with the F-35, Eurofighters and Gulfstream G-550; and Greece and the United States with the F-16. The Israeli participants include the "Baz" (F-15), the "Sufa" (F-16I) and the "Adir".
Red vs. Blue
The storyline guiding the exercise was based on two fictional neighboring countries, one blue and the other red. The scenarios included large aircraft formations, including fighter jets, RPAVs (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicles), transport aircraft and helicopters.
The blue force's mission during the first week of the exercise was protecting Israel's skies against various enemy threats. "Sky defense isn't common in NATO countries", explained Lt. Col. M', Commander of the 133rd ("Knights of the Twin Tail") Squadron. "We teach the international forces how to protect the country's skies, just like we see it in our operational day-to-day activity in Israel".
During the second week, the blue forces took off to attack targets in red force territory. "The blue forces have to utilize everything at their platforms' disposal in order to perform their mission successfully", continued Lt. Col. M'. "The F-35 aircraft brings a significant advantage to the theatre, which allows the other aircraft to carry on with their missions while handling oncoming threats".
The red force was made up of the force's aggressor squadron – the 115th ("Flying Dragon") Squadron – and the Air Defense Array's "Yahalom" (Patriot) batteries, which acted as advanced SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) systems. "The red force provides a significant challenge", said Lt. Col. Panagiotis Katsikaris, Commander of the Hellenic Air Force's 335th Squadron. "The reds started out easy during the first few flights, but we noticed their tactics changing as the days went by. They operated differently each day, and we had to act accordingly. Thanks to our mutual operation, we learned valuable lessons with each day".
Working with the "Adir"
The "Adir" was the exercise's guest of honor. "This is our first time showing the 'Adir' to international air forces", said Lt. Col. T', Commander of the 140th ("Golden Eagle") Squadron. "So far, our training and cooperation using the 'Adir' was performed within the force. This is the first showing of the air force's new capabilities".
When planning an "Adir" exercise program, scenarios must be adjusted according to certain missions while also taking other aircraft with different missions into consideration. "This adjustment is complex", explained Col. A'. "We made it so aircraft from different generations can train in parallel, with each of them having targets of their own".
The "Adir" was not the only F-35 in the exercise, as the Italian force brought their own model as well. "Our ability to sit together, brief, debrief and exchange information allowed us to take a step forward in our work, and see how each side does things differently while optimizing use of the aircraft's capabilities", said Lt. Col. T'.
Uvda AFB is home to several HAS (Hardened Aircraft Shelters) in which the aircraft are parked. Seeing as the "Adir" jet is considerably tall, it does not fit into a standard HAS. "We had to saw off some of the HAS' concrete in order to properly fit the 'Adir' in", explained Maj. Roy, Commander of Uvda's Construction Unit. "This means that Uvda is now capable of housing the 'Adir'. Not all IAF airbases are capable of doing so, and this action is of great significance".
"Preparation for the exercise began over six months ago", described Capt. Bar, a munitions officer at the 140th Squadron. "We had to think up everything we needed for aircraft spares, down to the tiniest screw".
The Technical Department worked with both the Israeli and Italian F-35 squadrons. "The amount of equipment required for maintenance of the aircraft is large", said Capt. Bar. "We talked to the Italians in advance in order to support them with some of the equipment we brought from Nevatim AFB".
The exercise was overseen by Lt. Col. (Res') Tal Herman. "The first aspect of preparing the exercise was the aerial overview – that is, the things we wanted to practice. This was led by the 133rd Squadron, which planned the scenarios alongside the 115th Squadron", elaborated Lt. Col. (Res') Herman. "The second aspect was work on the ground. We had to plan how we would bring all the international crews to Uvda AFB, and prepare infrastructure for two weeks' time".
"The 'Blue Flag' exercise represents not only the air force, but the entire State of Israel", emphasized Lt. Col. (Res') Herman. "It's important for us that all international crews are welcomed properly, and that they see the IAF as the professional force that it is while also developing interpersonal relationships. When they go back home, we'll have hundreds of good-will ambassadors".
Besides the interpersonal relationships between the exercise's participants, the "Blue Flag" is also of great political importance between Israel and the international forces. "The significance of this exercise cannot be undervalued", concluded Col. M', Commander of Uvda AFB. "The four countries' cooperation with Israel sets up the ground for many wonderful future opportunities. The airbase has an opportunity to open its doors and show these countries the air force and its strength".