An Israeli F-16I fighter jet takes off earlier this month from Ramon Air Force Base in the Negev Desert. Israel plans to host an international air exercise patterned after the US Air Force's Red Flag event. (Agence France-Presse)
TEL AVIV — The Israel Air Force will host nearly 1,000 officers and air warriors from three nations for desert-based training in a debut Blue Flag air drill scheduled here for next month.
Patterned after the US Air Force’s annual Red Flag desert exercise, the two-week Blue Flag at the Air Force’s Ovda training range north of Eilat marks Israel’s first multinational training event.
It will involve more than 100 aircraft performing Israeli-planned air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, with participating forces operating against Israel’s Flying Dragon aggressor squadron in simulated aerial engagements.
Due to diplomatic and security concerns, Israel is withholding the identities of participating air forces until their personnel and aircraft are safely in country.
Aside from the US Air Force, sources here cited Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Poland as possible participants. All have trained with Israel in the past two years.
Since losing Turkey as a joint training partner in 2009, the Air Force has cultivated cooperation with Cyprus and Greece. In the past four years, both nations have repeatedly offered their airspace for long-range patrols and aerial refueling. The most recent involved a weeklong drill this month.
The Turkish Air Force severed ties with the Israel Air Force following Israel’s Cast Lead incursion into Gaza, abruptly disinviting Israel from taking part in Anatolian Eagle, a multinational exercise also patterned after Red Flag.
Brig. Gen. Amikam Norkin, Israel Air Force chief of air operations, said the service plans to institutionalize Blue Flag as a biennial event for showcasing capabilities, strengthening diplomatic bonds and preparing for future scenarios involving coalition forces.
“We could find ourselves involved with other international interests in this region ... not for joint planning or coalition-scale coordination, but for purposes of deconfliction,” he said. “The subject of training, using the same language and the same terms, will help enormously in such scenarios.”