The Israel Air Force (IAF) hosted its first multinational air drill in southern Israel, alongside the United States, Greece, and Italy. Known as the Blue Flag drill, the IDF said it was the first and largest kind of international drill carried out by the IAF, with a total of 60 fighter jets training together. The IAF has been cross-training with foreign counterparts for the past 15 years.
The Italian, Greek, and American fighter pilots and ground-crews have been simulating aerial dogfights, low-altitude bombing runs, and defense maneuvers in the two-week exercise. Training north of Elilat, American and Greek F-15s and F-16s and Italian Tornado and AMX aircraft could be seen flying Israeli skies, training in desert-based air combat.
The IAF described the Blue Flag drill as a “strategic asset for both the IDF and the Western world.”
Israel plans to hold such a drill every two years, as it provides an excellent venue for international pilot cooperation – learning how to more effectively communicate during a joint operation while sharing operational capabilities and experience, as well as training in unfamiliar territory.
On Monday, the Italian, Greek, and U.S. ambassadors to Israel were present at the Ovda Air Base to watch a joint drill.
U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro spoke with reporters, emphasizing that the joint drill was not connected to any specific events, in light of the very recent nuclear deal reached with Iran. “It’s not tied to any specific events. We live in a tough world, dangerous world,” said the U.S. ambassador according to a Xinhua news agency report. “Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood, and we need the best equipped and best trained forces as possible to protect our people and security. We also need allies.”
On a less serious note, the Greek ambassador, speaking in Hebrew, joked with reporters saying that it was a special day because “pilots who say little and do a lot are standing together with diplomats who do little, but say a lot.”
The Blue Flag drill is modeled after the U.S. Air Force’s Red Flag drill, an exercise held at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where American and NATO pilots participate in realistic combat training every year.