Air force flight crews from around the world gathered in Israel this month for this year’s Blue Flag aerial training exercises, held in southern Israel.
Beginning November 3rd and ending Thursday, flight teams from Israel, the US, Germany, Greece, and Italy took part in the first international ‘Fifth Generation’ air force exercise hosted by the Israeli Air Force. The exercise included next-generation fighters, including the F-35 stealth fighter, along with fourth and 4.5th generation fighters, like upgraded versions of the F-16 and F-15 fighter jets.
Arutz Sheva spoke with pilots and commanders from the US Air Force, the German Air Force, and Greece’s Hellenic Air Force at Ovda airbase in southern Israel.
F-16 pilot Captain Ariel Brown is part of the US Air Force’s 480th Fighter Squadron of the 52nd Fighter Wing stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.
Along with enjoying the change of scenery from Germany, Captain Brown said the exercise gave her team the chance to compare different tactical approaches with foreign crews flying the same types of aircraft.
“It has been great. Obviously the weather is very great here, a lot of sun, which is nice. And it has been quite an awesome experience to operate with all these different countries and learn from each other’s tactics, and to be able to fly over this great airspace.”
“It is my first time here with the Israelis. It has been awesome to be a part of this partnership that we have had with them for decades with them, and to increase our tactics with them as well.”
“The differences in tactics are very minor. We work really well together. They fly [F-15] Eagles and [F-16] Vipers, as we do. The tactics are very similar. It’s been more of how we want to go about a mission set, whether that’s fly at low altitude, fly at higher altitudes, just more tactics like that we’ve been learning from.”
Another member of the American delegation which took part in this year’s Blue Flag was Patrick “Phats” Kennedy, commander of the US Air Force’s 480th Fighter, stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.
“The significance of this exercise comes down to increasing everybody’s readiness by working on interoperability with all of our partner nations,” Kennedy told Arutz Sheva.
“I think the uniqueness comes from a sense of camaraderie with the Israeli people and the other partner nations that are here. The airspace is amazing. To get airspace like this is really a national treasure. From how low it goes, how high it goes, and without complaints from the population. It is great to have everybody supporting the military.”
Kennedy also had high praise for Israel air force, calling its officers “some of the most professional folks in the military I’ve every worked with in my career.
One of Greece’s participants in Blue Flag was Lt. Col. Panagiotis Katsikaris, commander of the Hellenic Air Force’s 335th Squadron.
Katsikaris said Greece recognized the annual exercises as a “great training opportunity” for its air force, and has been a partner every year.
Greece “traditionally participates in every Blue Flag exercise, since we see that as a great training opportunity. What makes this exercise interesting is that we have the opportunity to train with other kinds of fighter jets, other air forces, and also we have a very challenging environment on the ground with old and new generations of surface-to-air threats.”
The German team sent to Ovda airbase included Gordon Schnitger, Deputy Wing Commander of the German Air Force’s 71st Tactical Fighter Wing.
Schnitger said the exercise was of particular importance for Germany, considering his country’s history.
“It is really important for Germany to participate, now for the second time, in Blue Flag, because of the history of both nations. We all know the German history, and for us it is a very special moment, especially the first time that you fly in Israel. We’re looking forward to build friendship flying side-by-side and training together.”
“For us it is a really great opportunity to not only train with NATO partners, but also with non-NATO partners; to see their experiences, their tactics, learn from them, and then take it back to Germany and see if we can improve our tactics.”