Blue Flag 2019: 40 jets, 800 personnel attend IAF's most advanced drill

Five international airforces sent close to 40 jets and 800 personnel to the IAF's most advanced air drill.

An IAF F-35 plane at the bi-annual Blue Flag drill a massive exercise with pilots from the United States, Greece, Germany and Italy (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
An IAF F-35 plane at the bi-annual Blue Flag drill a massive exercise with pilots from the United States, Greece, Germany and Italy
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The fourth bi-annual Blue Flag aerial exercise hosted by the Israeli Air Force wrapped up after two weeks of advanced drills with five international air crews participating, and F-35 stealth fighter jets taking part for the first time.
An estimated 800 technical and administrative personnel from different air forces took part in the drill, which took place from November 3-14 at the Uvda Air Force base north of Eilat.
The airbase hosts squadrons training in the Negev Desert, and has an advanced center that trains aircrew in numerous exercises. It is also the base of the “Flying Dragon” or “Red” Squadron, which plays the role of enemy aircraft in exercises, and ground teams that operate enemy ground targets such as missile launchers and radars, and infantry soldiers who act as terrorists during these training scenarios.
F-16 jets on the runway during the Blue Flag drill (Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)F-16 jets on the runway during the Blue Flag drill (Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Along with the dozens of Israeli aircraft taking part, some 40 aircraft from the United States (12 F-16s), Greece (four F-16s), Germany (six Eurofighters) and Italy (six Eurofighters along with six F-35s and one G550) took part in the drill.
“This is a coalition, maybe not one in wartime, but an important coalition,” said a senior IAF officer involved with the drill.
Capt. B, who flies F-15s and participated for the third time in Blue Flag, told The Jerusalem Post that to see participants return and want to come to the drill “is incredible. I believe that you have to learn something new every day.”
Capt. B stands in front of an F-15 IAF plane during the Blue Flag drill (Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)Capt. B stands in front of an F-15 IAF plane during the Blue Flag drill (Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 Capt. B., whose name cannot be disclosed for security purposes, moved to Israel from the US in order to fulfill his dream of being a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force.
“The most obvious solution might not be the most obvious solution to the scenarios we are given,” he said. “The fourth, 4.5 and fifth generation platforms all have their specific advantages, and most of the scenarios in the drill are such that you cannot fly alone without the other platforms.”
Prior to the drill, the military said that “the exercise is of paramount strategic importance and will have a significant impact on the Israeli Air Force, the IDF and the State of Israel. The IAF is practicing and will continue to practice in collaboration with foreign air forces to maintain its competence and readiness, to strengthen the ties and interests between the forces and to encourage and strengthen the joint learning between the forces.
“The cooperation will enable high-quality international training, mutual learning, and development of flight techniques, and after action, review techniques will offer an opportunity to strengthen relations between countries,” the statement added.
Blue Flag 2019 was the first time that F-35 fighter jets participated in the exercise, which was last carried out in November 2017 when seven foreign air forces took part. According to a senior IAF officer, one of the main goals of this year’s Blue Flag is to train and understand the fifth generation F-35 stealth fighter.
An F-35 on the runway during the Blue Flag drill (Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)An F-35 on the runway during the Blue Flag drill (Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

The Italians, who brought half of their entire equipment to participate in the drill, has been building their force in the past few years, and came to learn about the F-35 from Israel, the first air force which used the platform in military operations.
While there were fewer air crews taking part, senior IAF officers stressed that there was the same number of aircraft taking part, and that this year’s Blue Flag was the most advanced exercise that provided high quality aerial combat training with both fourth- and fifth-generation platforms, providing the opportunity to conduct joint tactical flights against a variety of threats using advanced technology.
“Every country acts differently, including how they deal with threats,” said the senior officer involved in the drill, adding that “it’s important to see how the other forces operate” so pilots can think differently than they are used to.
As part of the exercise, dozens of flights were carried out where the jets simulated air-to-air combat, air-to-ground combat, dealing with the threat of advanced surface-to-air missiles, and scenarios of combat in enemy territory called Nowhereland.
During a debriefing before taking to the air on Sunday, pilots from the participating countries were told of the various challenges facing them during their morning exercises such as jammers, camouflage, mobile ordinance interception, threat prioritization and low altitude flying.
“This will be new and hard for everyone,” the Israeli pilot told the audience. “Tomorrow war, so today we train.”