(JNS) Israel completed its fourth international air exercise in southern Israel, Blue Flag 2019, earlier this month—a drill that planners have described as being the most advanced of its kind to date.

Towards the end of the exercise, held from Nov. 3 to Nov. 14 at Uvda Air Force Base, just north of Eilat, other jets from the Israel Air Force were busy striking Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip as rockets flew in the direction of Israeli cities.

Yet the air forces of the United States, Germany, Italy and Greece joined Israeli flight crews and completed the joint training as planned.

“In 2017, we called Blue Flag our biggest drill. Now, in 2019, we are describing this drill as being the most advanced,” Lt. Col. (res.) Tal Herman, head of the IAF’s Blue Flag management team, told JNS in the midst of the exercise.

“What makes it advanced is that, first of all, this is the first time that fifth generation aircraft—the Israeli F-35 and the Italian F-35—are taking part. We focused on integrating these planes and linking them up with fourth-generation planes, like F-15s and F-16s, and the German and Italian Eurofighters,” he explained.

Learning how to deal with fifth-generation stealth planes was a key aspect of the exercise. “How do I bring it down? We placed certain blocks on the plane for the drill to make it fair,” he said.

Asked to list the advantages of such a drill, Herman said, “The first is that it brings people from different air forces together. On the day that a real order might come, it makes it more comfortable to cooperate. We have been together, sitting in the same briefing rooms. We are not strangers. Diplomatically, every picture of a foreign air force flying with the IAF is good for Israel.”

On the professional-technical level, the drill challenges the foreign air crews by removing them from their comfort zone and getting them to fly in unfamiliar spaces. “They have to fly together with platforms they do not know, against tactics that are not their home court tactics. Some of us have to fly in a different language. Flying in English is a different difficulty level,” said Herman.

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