Israel Hosts Seven Countries in Its Largest-ever Air Force Drill

Air force pilots from Italy, India, France, United States, Poland, Germany and Greece participate this year in bi-annual Blue Flag exercise

An Israeli air force F-15,at the Ovda air force base, on November 8, 2017
An Israeli air force F-15,at the Ovda air force base, on November 8, 2017 Ilan Assayag

Over 70 aircrafts from seven countries are participating in the largest air force exercise ever held in Israel.

The two week-long Blue Flag exercise, which began on November 2, brings seven air forces – Italy, India, France, the United States, Poland, Germany and Greece – to the Ovda base in southern Israel.

This drill marks the first time German or French aircraft have trained over Israeli skies. It is also the first time that India joins the bi-annual exercise.

An Israeli air force F-15, at the Ovda air force base, on November 8, 2017.
Ilan Assayag
A French air force Dassault Mirage 2000D, at the Ovda air force base on November 8, 2017.
JACK GUEZ/AFP

"We are providing them with a high-tech playground," said Col. Itamar, commander of the Ovda base, whose full name was not permitted for publication.

Over 1,000 personnel from the eight countries, including Israel, participate in the event, which the Israeli Air Force billed as having a "profound strategic meaning" for "strategic-international cooperation."

The main benefit of the exercise was diplomatic. Even air force officers, though they attributed operational importance to it, said the very fact that such an exercise could be held in Israel— with major countries participating in it— was the principal achievement. This fact paints Israel as the most stable country in the region, they added.

Despite the various scenarios practiced, which involved joint flights by planes from different countries, the army understands that for the foreseeable future, there are no scenarios in which Israeli planes will have to fly together with those of other countries on an operational mission.

An Italian Tornado IDS at Ovda military air base in southern Israel November 8, 2017
AMIR COHEN/REUTERS
A Polish F-16 Block 52 fighter jet at the Ovda air force base on November 8, 2017.
JACK GUEZ/AFP
Two German Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets fly over Ovda airbase near Eilat, southern Israel during the 2017 Blue Flag exercise on Nov. 8, 2017
Ariel Schalit/AP

From an operational standpoint, the air force said the most important parts of the exercise were the dialogue between the different air forces, the experience of working together with squadrons one hasn’t trained with, and the debriefings, which were attended by representatives of all the participating air forces.

The countries will face off against a simulated enemy force played by the Israeli army's Squadron 115.

"It's not about winning or losing, but about improving combat readiness," Itamar said.

An Israeli air force F-16C,at the Ovda air force base, on November 8, 2017
JACK GUEZ/AFP
An American air force F-16 Block 40, the Ovda air force base, on November 8, 2017.
JACK GUEZ/AFP