Israel Air Force planes returned from the United States on Wednesday, where they participated in a large-scale military exercise with the U.S. Air Force and a number of other nations. Aircraft from Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates participated in the exercise too, as reported last month in Haaretz.
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The website of the Nellis Air Force base in Nevada, where the “Red Flag” advanced combat training exercise was held, stated that the Spanish Air Force participated too, alongside planes and pilots from the other four countries.
The head of the IAF’s training department, Col. Amit, refused to discuss the identity of the nations that participated in Red Flag during a session with military correspondents. “We train together with anyone who attends the exercise. We have no say in the matter,” he said.
Col. Amit confirmed the exercise was conducted jointly with other countries. “In a group it is impossible to hide your level. If you did not carry out the mission given to you, everyone sees it,” he added.
Eight Israeli F-16I (“Sufa,” or Storm) fighter jets took part in the exercise this year, along with Israeli refueling planes. This was the consecutive second year in which the IAF participated in Red Flag, during which fighter jets simulate combat involving coalition forces, and the sixth time in total since the early 2000s. IAF jets belonging to three Sufa squadrons were sent to the U.S. Air and ground crews also participated in the exercise, which ended on August 26.
The U.S. Air Force began running Red Flag 41 years ago, as part of the conclusions drawn from the Vietnam War. All the squadrons participating are assigned to “red” and “blue” forces. The American “Red Flag” squadron acts as the enemy side. They practice intercepting other aircraft, attacking targets, rescuing pilots, intelligence gathering, cyber attacks and engaging in aerial activity under the ostensible threat of ground-to-air missiles.
Col. Amit said the exercise lasted for two weeks and included daily flights, in daylight as well as at night. Some 50 warplanes participated, as did helicopters, transports, aerial defense units, and intelligence and special forces units. He declined to say whether the exercise included training in handling Russian S-300 anti-aircraft batteries, which Russia is supplying to Iran.
Because Israel’s aerial training space is relatively limited, “it is hard for us to challenge and surprise our aircrews with new training scenarios,” he said. “In the U.S. the crews train in a new and unfamiliar space for them. This is a great challenge. There is no replacement for such an exercise from our perspective, both because of the quality of the exercise and the strengthening of cooperation with the Americans.”
At the end of the year, Israel will hold its own exercise, “Blue Flag,” and has invited a number of foreign air forces to participate. The U.S. Air Force has already confirmed its participation.
Last year the air forces of the U.S., Israel, Singapore and Jordan participated in the Red Flag exercise. At the time it was reported by foreign sources that Israeli planes even refueled the Jordanian fighter jets in the air, on the way to the U.S.