It’s not every day that air forces from around the world gather in Israel for training maneuvers with the Israeli Air Force.
This year’s Blue Flag 2021 exercises is the largest and most advanced so far, with the participation of eight countries training with fourth generation aircraft along with fifth generation F-35s, which expands the IAF’s capabilities in the battlefield.
Arutz Sheva spoke to some of the air force pilots that came to Israel from around the world to participate.
“Large force exercises like this are usually pretty rare. And it’s a great opportunity to work with so many aircraft in the air at the same time, fully integrating different capability strengths,” says Lt. Pitt Phonboon, US Air Force.
Phonboon adds: “The airspace here is a little smaller than what we see for a normal [exercise]. So that’s a different challenge as far as deciding how we’re going to employ our tactics in a more contained environment.”
Greek Air Force Lt. Col. “Digger” comments that “the Israelis, they have great professionalism. We enjoy flying with them.”
“We didn’t come here to train for something specific,” he says. “We [are here for] the opportunity to train in order to be ready to overcome any threat or be prepared for future operations but not something specific. It’s a great experience. Nice weather.”
US Air Force Captain Scott Worziniak explains that participating in Blue Flag is an unparalleled experience.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to meet a lot of the different countries and find out how they operate in the air and show them how we operate,” Worziniak says.
In the air, the cultural and tactical differences disappear, and the pilots all share the bond of being in the sky together.
“Once we’re in the air we’re all aviators. That really helps a lot,” German Air Force Lt. Col. Niko Biederman says.
In the wake of the Holocaust trauma, Biederman says that there is a special feeling participating in the exercise in Israel.
“It’s a very special feeling for us. Over the last couple of years we have been trying to build a close relationship with the Israeli Air Force,” he says. “We had a squadron exchange last year from the Israel squadron at our base, and now to be here it’s a very special experience.”
Lt. Col. M of the Israeli Air Force explains that every country comes to the event with their own unique background and everyone learns from everyone else.
“Every country is coming from a different culture, and a different arena. We are coming together, and of course everybody takes lessons learned, and we are improving tactics according to these exercises,” he says. “We are not focusing on any specific operational issues. It’s just training. We have a very advanced and big playground and training area. Every country is taking lessons learned from its own tactics.”
Blue Flag also brings out a feeling of Israeli and Zionist pride.
“There is that kind of feeling. It’s very unique to sit together with nations from across the globe, fly together,” he says. “Also flying over Jerusalem and the Dead Sea and the south of Israel. It's a very unique view they can have while they are flying.”