The Blue Flag exercise is held at Ovda Air Base in the southern part of Israel close to touristic town of Eilat in the Negev desert. Ovda Air Base is the main deployment base for the Israeli Air Force and this location offers excellent opportunities for these large scale exercises due to the modern infrastructure and large space of the base. Also the IDF advanced training center is located at Ovda together with the 115 SQN ‘Flying Dragon’ aggressor unit operating the F-16 “Barak” as Red Force in the exercise.
From 2013 on the IDF launched this biennial as an international exercise as it was from 2003 an annual training for most of the IAF fixed-wing combat squadrons only.
The Blue Flag training exercise is to simulate a full scale combat scenario with multiple planes from local and foreign Air Forces and conduct around 100 sorties in one or two mass launches on a daily base included night missions.
The missions ranged from simulated air-to-air combat, air-to-ground attacks or border protection in which participating aircraft were divided into two groups and flew their mission against the others. Due to the limited airspace and situated weapon ranges it is a huge job for the air traffic control (Ground Control Unit GCU) to provide a save operation area, and for that reason the whole southern airspace is off-limit to any aircraft not participating to the exercise in this two week period.
For the first time also some MIM-104 patriot surface-to-air missile batteries included in the Blue Flag exercise to even more stretch the Blue Air assets. But also the Patriot group trained themselves during the exercise for incoming UAV drones as the country main threat these days.
The Israel Air Force unit 133 Squadron based at Tel Nov and flying the F-15A/B/C/D Eagles is the lead unit for the exercise and started planning the exercise already at the beginning of 2017. Together with the 115 SQN ‘Flying Dragons’ both units are responsible for the execution of the aerial aspects of the training and what kind of scenarios or missions are flown in this two week period.
The first week of the Blue Flag is marked as ‘BF1’and is also used for familiarization flights to get a better understanding of the operating area’s as well as the other participating units. The second week is marked as ‘BF2’ for the full scale scenarios and more complex missions.
Not only the number of aircraft involving in the exercise but also the number of countries participating in the 2017 edition increased! In 2013 only the Hellenic Air Force, Italian Air Force and the United States Air Force participated besides the Israeli Air Force combat squadrons. The Polish Air Force joined the 2015 edition as new country with their F-16’s, while the 2017 edition saw the French Air Force, German Air Force and the Indian Air Force participating. For these last tree countries it was the first time ever formal visit of Military planes to Israel making this exercise even more special.
The main goal for this large exercise is to exchange the knowledge and learn of all participating countries and combat units to improve their skills
The United States Air Force Europe (USAFE) participated with eight F-16CJ’s from 510th Fighter Squadron ‘Buzzards’ from Aviano. The Hellenic Air Force send four of their F-16C/D Block52 jets from 335 Mira ‘Tigers’ based at Araxos while the Polish Air Force send six F-16C/D from 3 and 6 Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego based at Pozan. The French Air Force used five Mirage-2000D’s from Escadron de Chasse 1/3 based at Nancy Ochey and the Germans sent six of their Eurofighters from Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 73 normally based at Laage Air Base. The Italian Air Force used their 6 Stormo Tornado IDS/ECR fighter jets from Ghedi while the Indian Air Force used a single C-130J Hercules from 77 SQN, this Squadron is dedicated to supporting India’s Special Operations Forces ‘Garud’ who also participated in the ground part of the exercise. The ‘Garud’ Commando forces trained together with the Israel’s elite unit 669 combat search and rescue force but also with the Nevatim based 103 SQN ‘Elephants’ who is flying the C-130 Hercules as well.
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) was present with a large contingent of fighter jets from units from all over the country. 133 SQN ‘Knights of the Twin Tail’ based at Tel Nov was present with 14 of their F-15A/B/C/D Eagles (some loaned from 106 SQN) but also six F-16C/D ‘Barak’ from 101 Squadron ‘First Fighter’ from Harzor Air Base participated, while 109 Squadron ‘Valley’ and 117 Squadron ‘First Jet’ all supported 115 Squadron ’Flying Dragon’ with some aircraft. From Hatzerim Air Base 107 Squadron was present with six of their magnificent F-16I ‘Sufa’ Fighters.
Besides fighter jets also some KC-707 tankers, C-130J Transporters and some Conformal Airborne Early Warning Gulfstreams from 122 Squadron ‘Nachshon’, all based at Nevatim Air Base, joined the training exercise as well.
The next edition of the Blue Flag will most likely be held at the end of 2019 and this will enter a new era for the Blue Flag ! The IAF will then be a fifth-generation fighter user with their new F-35I ‘Adir’ fighter jets, and most likely participating the Blue Flag as well. The F-35I will then be the backbone of the Air Force and play a significant role in this exercise. But not only the IAF is looking forward to the next edition, but also other countries like the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the Royal Air Force (RAF) are seriously interested to participate as well in the upcoming exercise.