Air Force to Host 7 Nations in its Largest-Ever Air Drill
By Barbara Opall-Rome
March 21, 2017
TEL AVIV, Israel — The Israeli Air Force will host
flying forces from seven nations later this year in the largest and most complex
air exercise in its history.
Nearly 100 aircraft and several hundreds of air warriors
and support crews from the United States, Greece, Poland, France, Germany, India
and Italy will converge here in the autumn for Blue Flag, a biennial, two-week
drill aimed at honing the type of planning, targeting and coordinated command
and control demanded by coalitions operating in high-threat theaters.
“It will be a massive exercise; the biggest ever for
the IAF. Seven nations plus Israel,” said Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, the Israeli
Air Force's chief of international affairs.
Of the seven confirmed participants, four have never
before actively participated in Blue Flag, which began in 2013 and continued in
2015 as a four-way exercise involving Israel, the U.S., Greece and Poland. This
year, however, four new nations are participating, along with officers and
attaches from nearly 40 countries who are expected to attend as observers.
“Everybody wants to engage and cooperate with the IAF.
It’s a privilege,” said Hecht, who spent four years on the Israel Defense
Forces’ J5 planning staff, primarily coordinating bilateral issues between the
U.S. and Israel.
“People are seeing there’s a lot to learn from
Israel. In our tiny airspace and in the environment around us, things are so
intense. The Russians are here. … Many of the world’s air forces are passing
through here on their way to operations in Syria and elsewhere in the region. So
we provide a sort of battle lab in which forces can hone a spectrum of skills
needed to combat growing threats,” Hecht said.
Unlike the annual Red Flag drill hosted by the U.S. Air
Force at Nellis Air Force base in Nevada, Israel’s Blue Flag does not pit
flying forces against one another in various combat drills. Rather, said Hecht,
the Israeli event is designed to satisfy respective requirements of
participating forces and emphasize cooperation over competition.
“It’s not a competitive event. It’s about
partnerships, and we tailor parts of the drill to fit each nation’s
requirements,” Hecht said. “And it's not only the exercise itself but the
buildup to the exercise where you have all these nations planning together,
getting to know one another, building relationships and talking about how we
The first planning conference for Blue Flag was held
here last month, with another one or even two planned before the actual event
later this year. Hecht said that it gives lower-level officers and rank-and-file
airmen and aircrews the chance to forge cooperation normally reserved for the
much higher echelons.
“It’s a difference when generals meet generals to
discuss cooperation and when large numbers of fighting forces actually come
together to plan and train together. When that happens, it’s a different
ballgame,” he said.
He declined to specify what exactly is planned for this
year’s drill, but if the last Blue Flag is any indication, forces will conduct
many hundreds of sorties using all of the nation’s airspace to practice
air-to-air battles, ground attacks on fixed- and moving targets, and maneuvering
amid threats from surface-to-air batteries and shoulder-launched missiles.
He did note that a featured scenario of this year’s
drill is likely to involve precision airstrikes in built-up areas, where the
goal is to minimize harm to civilians or property.
“This is much bigger than anything we’ve done
before, and we’re all excited for the opportunity to come together and build
partnerships and share knowledge,” he said.