UVDA AIR BASE, Israel --
Twelve F-16C Fighting Falcons and approximately 250 Airmen from the 52nd Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, deployed to build strategic partnerships and complete aerial tactical training exercises through participation in exercise Blue Flag 2019 in Uvda Air Base, Israel starting on November 3, 2019.
Blue Flag is a biennial exercise, hosted by Israel, that provides U.S. Airmen and members of allied nations the opportunity to practice in a unique environment and build multinational partnerships; this year’s participants included the U.S., Israel, Germany, Greece and Italy.
“Israel provides a great opportunity to fly at a low altitude as well as fly against live emitters, which is great training,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Andrew Burns, 480th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot. “We are also able to see how different cultures think about problems and see their ways of problem solving, which allows us to come up with a better solution overall and has us build relationships with our other nations.”
Blue Flag provides multi-domain, cross-functional training missions aimed at maintaining the sharp combat edge needed for the most demanding military scenarios by promoting a continuous learning environment. The multinational aspect of the training builds partnership and personal relationships among the pilots of each participating nation as they train together to make each pilot better.
“We learn all the time,” said Israeli air force Capt. B, 133rd Fighter Squadron F-15I Ra’am pilot, Tel Nof Air Base, Israel. “That is part of being an Airmen. You want to learn so you can be the best out there. You want to be the best independent pilot. You want to be the best squadron and we are learning together to make everyone a better pilot.”
One method some air forces have used to facilitate learning from each other is a squadron exchange. This exchange also builds personal ties and mutual respect for the abilities of each Blue Flag participant.
“We started doing a squadron exchange,” said German air force Lt. Col. Manuel Last, 71st Fighter Wing F-2000 Eurofighter Typhoon pilot, Wittmundhafen Air Base, Germany. “We flew with the Israeli air force. One of our pilots flew in an Israeli F-16 and we took one of their pilots in our Eurofighter. It was kind of emotional, it was a great experience, and I really honor the professionalism of the Israeli air force.”
Blue Flag provides the opportunity for U.S. and allied nations to leverage their relationships to ensure their capabilities and expertise are available to enhance their abilities and add breadth to the air capabilities they provide.
“Being here offers certain opportunities such as low altitude flying,” Burns said. “Typically in Germany we do not get a lot of that training. So being here and able to train with low altitude tactics, our surface-to-air targets and our Israeli partners, really enhances our ability to operate together and develop our tactics. It makes us better aviators and better tactical effectiveness working with the Israeli air force and with the other partner nations here.”
This year’s Blue Flag involves combined training with several generations of aircraft, a factor that adds additional learning opportunities and provides another dimension to the cooperative training environment.
“One of the main challenges here is how to bring together the four, four and a half, and fifth generation fighters,” said Hellenic air force Lt. Col. Panagiotis Katsikaris, 335th Fighter Squadron commander. “Working together and operating efficiently. That is what we are practicing. Our jet is four and a half generation, so we are learning from the fifth generation fighters and aircrews what they can do and how we can work together because that is where you get the best outcome, when you work together as a combined force. Alone, nobody can work efficiently.”