How does the recent Israel-US military drill compare to other drills? - analysis

Israel and the US launched a joint air force drill this week.

 A US Air Force B-52 strategic bomber, C-17 and F-22s take part in a joint drill with South Korea's Air Force, in South Korea, December 20, 2022.  (photo credit: The Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS)
A US Air Force B-52 strategic bomber, C-17 and F-22s take part in a joint drill with South Korea's Air Force, in South Korea, December 20, 2022.
(photo credit: The Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS)

The announcement this week that US Central Command is conducting a joint drill with Israel is interesting because of the large number of vessels and planes involved.

Let’s look at some of the systems involved and why this drill is so massive, and why it’s also like other global drills that are key to the US system of partners and allies that help keep the world safe from adversaries. 

According to US Central Command. the drill involved 140 aircraft, “including B-52s, F-35s, F-15s, F-16s, FA-18s, AC-130, AH-64s, 12 naval vessels, High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, and Multiple Launch Rocket Systems.”

While the B-52 is an aging platform, Defense News had an article earlier this month that noted that “Rolls-Royce and Boeing are working on a major upgrade to the service’s fleet of 76 Cold War-era B-52 Stratofortresses that will give them a new slate of F130 engines and keep them flying into the 2050s, alongside at least 100 B-21s.”

The report further notes that keeping this fleet of massive bombers flying isn’t easy. The plane has been around since the 1960s. But the US frequently sends B-52s on long-range missions as a kind of show of force and influence. In December the US also sent B-52 and F-22s to a joint drill with South Korea.  

 A US Air Force B-52 strategic bomber, C-17 aircraft along with South Korea's Air Force F-35As take part in a joint drill, South Korea, December 20, 2022. (credit: The Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS) A US Air Force B-52 strategic bomber, C-17 aircraft along with South Korea's Air Force F-35As take part in a joint drill, South Korea, December 20, 2022. (credit: The Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS)

The US has taken part in other drills

In August last year, more than 5,000 personnel from the US, Indonesia, Australia, Japan and Singapore gathered for a drill called Super Garuda Shield which reports noted was the largest of this drill since it began in 2009.

“The United Kingdom, Canada, France, India, Malaysia, South Korea, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and East Timor also sent observers to the exercises,” the AP noted.

In comparison, Juniper Oak had around 6,400 US personnel and 1,000 Israeli personnel participating, according to NBC.  

Both of those drills are smaller than the world’s largest naval exercise which is called RIMPAC. That drill, last June, included 26 countries and 25,000 personnel, as well as 4 submarines, nine countries' ground forces and 170 aircraft. In the Middle East, the largest naval drill is IMX. In 2022 that drill lasted 18 days and had 9,000 personnel and 50 ships. It also had a huge number of unmanned systems, meaning naval drones and other types of drones. This included some 80 unmanned systems last year and it combined with another drill called Cutlass Express.  

So how does Juniper Oak measure up?

It’s the largest exercise of this kind between Israel and the US. In terms of the number of aircraft participating it is also large but not as large when it comes to the number of ships. Israel is not, however, a major naval power, so that’s expected.

What other drills has Israel participated in?

Israel has participated in other naval drills, including Noble Dina, and also a drill last year in the Red Sea. Israel also hosts a major air force drill every two years called Blue Flag. In 2017 that drill included some 70 aircraft from half a dozen countries, including French Mirage fighters, Italian Tornados, and Israeli and US F-16s. Israel has also done a number of recent drills with its F-35s, including a drill with Italy in July 2022, the Blue Flag 2021 drill, and the Tri-Lightning drill with the US and UK in 2021. These kinds of drills are important but they are much smaller than either Juniper Oak or other drills undertaken by Western countries. 

For instance, NATO countries brought together five aircraft carriers for a massive drill in November 2022 that involved thousands of sailors. Israel, which only recently acquired new Sa’ar 6 corvette ships, is much smaller in terms of naval power. However, in terms of aircraft, this recent Juniper Oak drill is larger than previous drills.