8 countries, 70 fighter jets, 1,500 crewmen: Inside the IAF’s largest ever Blue Flag exercise

The large-scale drill comes amid increased tensions between Jerusalem and Tehran.

By Aryeh Savir/TPS, World Israel News Staff

Some 1,500 crewmen from the Israeli, U.S., Greek, Italian, British, German, French and Indian air forces have been training together in Israel’s skies in recent days as part of the two-week-long Blue Flag 2021 exercise, the largest and most advanced international exercise hosted by the Israeli Air Force (IAF).

The large-scale drill comes amid increased tensions between Jerusalem and Tehran, with the IDF shifting its priority toward Iran in recent months.

According to a recent report by Israel Hayom, the IAF has also began altering its force structure  and training in order to prepare for future airstrikes carried out within Iranian territory.

During the first week of the exercise, the air forces held daytime and nighttime flights and dealt with threats and challenges that increased from day to day.

During the exercise, the participating forces practiced against various threats, such as surface-to-air missiles, air-to-air battles, flying against ground threats and more.

The last three days of the exercise will simulate an ongoing warfare scenario where each day affects the next.

The IAF’s 115th “Flying Dragon” Squadron is serving as the aggressor Red team, and SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) batteries are simulating enemy anti-aircraft fire.

The IDF explained that the joint training enables the Israeli squadrons to study the other air forces, and prepares the flyers for real-time scenarios, “with the aim of preserving and improving the readiness and protection of the country’s skies.”

“This year’s ‘Blue Flag’ is the largest and most advanced one to date,” said IAF Brig. Gen. Amir Lazar, Head of the IAF Air Division. “Even though this is an international exercise, we are focusing on tasks that are familiar to the Israeli Air Force, so we are holding an international exercise with a hint of ‘blue and white’.”

“We are dealing with airspace defense, and border defense, a field that other countries have less experience in than we do, as well as depth strikes and ground force support,” he explained.

“At our home base, we are used to training with a maximum of 12 aircraft, all the same platform,” said Capt. Andrew, a USAF F-16 pilot and project officer of the American fighter wing deployment to Israel. “Blue Flag has a wide variety of platforms, and the difference between platforms in the flight formations themselves allows us to learn from their capabilities. The large number of aircraft also helps us focus on flight coordination, which is a critical aspect of any large-scale operation that we’d need to perform. This exercise is very challenging, but the challenge is essential as it reflects the level of training that we aspire to reach.”

This exercise recorded some historic moments. For the first time since 1948, a British combat team has been deployed to Israel.

German Typhoon fighter jets over the Knesset in Jerusalem for the first time, “as an expression of the memory of the past and the joint work for a better common future.”

For the first time, a fighter squadron from India was deployed in Israel with Mirage fighter jets, alongside a French fighter squadron with Raphael aircraft, which has not been seen in Israel before.

Finally, a meeting of 11 air force commanders from all over the world will take place, including Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Nasser Mohammed Al Alawi, the Air Force Commander of the United Arab Emirates, on his first and historic visit to Israel since the signing of the Abraham Accords.