US-Israel Joint Military Training:
"Austere Challenge 2012"


US-Israel Strategic Cooperation: Table of Contents | Joint Manuevers | Joint Programs

Print Friendly and PDF

For three weeks in October and November 2012, the United States and Israel collaborated in the largest aerial defense drill between the two allies to date. In spite of the concurrent rocket fire raining down on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, Austere Challenge 2012 was planned two years prior to the exercise, before the sudden increase in rocket fire, and is not related to any specific threats Israel faces such as that from Iran.

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Craig A. Franklin and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Brigadier General Nitzan Nuriel were the lead planners of the exercise for their respective nations. “This exercise is purely about improving our combined U.S.-Israeli capabilities,” Franklin said. “It’s about military teamwork. It is not related to national elections nor any perceived tensions in the Middle East. We are military professionals coming together to train for a defensive mission.”

However, given the current tensions in the region, this joint aerial exercise simulates an extensive Mideast war with U.S. intervention. As such, Austere Challenge 12 is a combined United States European Command (US EUCOM) and IDF exercise. Approximately 1,000 troops from the U.S. traveled to Israel to participate in the drill alongside a similar number of Israeli fighters. Additionally, 2,500 U.S. troops in Europe and elsewhere in the Mediterranean are taking part in the drill that was conducted both in Israel and off-shore.

U.S. troops manned Patriot anti-missile systems, an Aegis ballistic missile defense ship and other air defense systems, while Israeli troops tested Iron Dome and Arrow 2 systems, in addition to bringing the developing David’s Sling system into various scenarios.

On November 12, the IDF and U.S. Army launched four Patriot missiles into the Mediterranean Sea from the Palmachim Air Force base in Israel, near Rishon Letzion and Yavne. Additionally, batteries for the Patriot Pac-3, the most advanced model of the American-made missile, were stationed across Israel during the drill.

According to Israel's Defense Minister Edud Barak, "These are very important times for advancing our missile defense coordination in the face of future tests, and also for ongoing activity against Hamas and the terror organizations in Gaza, which is likely to worsen and expand." Because of the missile and rocket threats that Israel faces on so many of its borders, Austere Challenge was designed to simulate the possibility of wide-ranging rocket fire from enemies both near and far, including a possible war with Iran and Hezbollah. The Israeli defense establishment estimates that there are 60,000 missiles in Lebanon, including 5,000 rockets in the hands of Hezbollah that could reach the area between Hadera and Gedera, not to mention another few hundred capable of reaching southern Israel.

Israeli Brigadier General Shachar Shochat spoke about the deterrence aspect of the exercise in a press conference in October: "When you see two professional armed forces such as the U.S. and Israel Air Force air defense forces working together, practicing together, of course it is also a message of deterrence, and I hope the other side also understands it like that."

Israel will also test its Arrow 3 and Magic Wand systems, which have not yet been used in combat, in case it needs to use these more advanced defense systems. Also, the Israel Defense Ministry's Israel Missile Defense Organization ("Homa") is exploring the ability of these systems to continue working even if their computer links are down, which could happen if a cyber-attack against Israel's missile defense succeeds in disrupting communication.

The U.S. has pledged $30 million to Austere Challenge 12 and the Israelis 30 million shekels or about $7.9 million.

In spite of the large-scale character and high quality of this joint exercise, considering the short time frames in the event of a missile confrontation, more resources would need to be invested to ensure the greatest possible deterrence time, according to EUCOM commander Admiral James G. Stavridis.

Sources: U.S. Department of Defense; IDF Blog (October 20, 2012), (October 25, 2012); Jerusalem Post (November 12, 2012).

Back to Top

Print Friendly and PDF