Since its creation, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has been a model of innovation and success for militaries around the world. The IAF prides itself on being technologically advanced and its fighter pilots have won decisive battles against enemy forces despite being routinely outnumbered or far from the home front. It is for these reasons that the U.S. Air Force has begun conducting combined training with Israeli pilots.
In April 2001, Israeli and American fighter planes conducted the first ever joint training mission between the two air forces. The pilots performed maneuvers including mid-air refueling, dogfighting and air-to-ground attacks. The exercise included 14 Israeli F-15s and 10 F-16s and 11 US F-16s.
In June 2007, the IAF held joint training excercises with visiting American pilots as part of a “multi-year working plan involving joint flights for the purpose of mutual learning.” Such joint training exercises help strengthen the relationship between Israel and it's allies.
In November 2012, the U.S. and Israel collaborated in the largest aerial defense drill between the two allies to date. Codenamed "Austere Challenge," the drills were conducted both in Israel and offshore and involved approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in Israel with an additional 2,500 troops in Europe and elsewhere in the Mediterranean. The exercise also tested air defense capabilities and training of both countries.
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.”
In November 2013, fighter planes from the Greek and Italian Air Forces joined their counterparts from the U.S. to conduct joint training manuevers in Israel, codenamed Exercise Blue Flag. The drill represented the largest military air exercise in Israel's history, as more than 50 foreign and Israeli fighter jets were involved. The exercises' goals were to examine the group's general aerial capabilities and it included training missions to identify anti-aircraft missiles as well as surface-to-air ones and also included mock dogfights. Aerial refueling, attacks on fixed as well as moving targetsd, and damage assessment exercises were also included in the training. Exercise Blue Flag has been held multiple times since November 2013, most recently in October 2015. The October 2015 Blue Flag exercise was the largest aerial exercise in the history of the IAF involving the participation of multiple countries.
The Israeli and U.S. Air Forces signed an agreement aimed at increasing cooperation between the two organizations in June 2015. The ASNR (Air Senior National Representative) document provides a joint annual working plan to promote the interests of each organization, and according to Brigadier General Ya'akov Sharabani the document, “codifies everything that the IAF and USAF has been doing together and identifies new areas where we can cooperate”.
Israeli and U.S. pilots participated in a training exercise dubbed Southern Strike over the Southern United States during the first weeks of November 2015. As opposed to combat training scenarios, the exercise focused on terrain management, transporting items, handling difficult takeoffs and landings, low-level flight, and logistical missions. An annual event, 2015 was the third consecutive year that U.S. and Israeli forces had participated in this training program. While this exercise was being conducted, multiple American pilots were simultaneously in Israel for their annual Blue Flag drill.
An international exercise took place over two weeks in April 2016, including the U.S., Greek, and Israeli Air Forces. The pilots trained against a replica of the Russian S-300 missile system recently sold to Iran, with a special focus on preparing the Israeli pilots for a potential confrontation.
Aircraft and pilots from the U.S., Israel, Pakistan, Spain, the U.A.E., and four other unspecified countries participated in the “Red Flag” training mission at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada during the last weeks of August 2016. Israeli refueling planes took part in the exercise, along with eight Israeli F-16I Sufa fighter jets. During the Red Flag exercises, pilots are split into two teams and practice intercepting enemy aircraft, tracking targets, rescuing downed pilots, conducting cyber attacks, and operating under the threat of surface-to-air missiles.
Sources: “Israeli Air Force Holds Joint Exercise with U.S. Pilots,” Haaretz (June 10, 2007);
U.S. Department of Defense;
“Austere Challenge 12 Exercise Begins Tomorrow,” IDF Blog (October 20, 2012);
Adam May.“U.S. Third Air Force Commander: Austere Challenge 12 Shows Great Promise,” IDF Blog, (October 25, 2012);
Gili Cohen. “IDF and US Army Launch 4 Patriot Missiles as Part of Mass Joint Drill,” Jerusalem Post, (November 12, 2012);
Zitun, Yoav. “IAF, US Air Force Hold Largest Military Drill in Israel History,” YNET News (November 25, 2013);
Fenigstein, Noa. “Strategic Accord Signed with USAF,” Israel Air Force, (June 6, 2015);
Stewart, Phil/Williams, Dan. “Israel, US signal security ties back on track after Iran deal fued,” Reuters (October 19, 2015);
Gross, Judah Ari. “Israeli pilots train over southern US, with focus on mountainous areas,” Times of Israel (November 7, 2015);
Amir, Noam/Hashavua, Maariv. “A look into the IAF's latest international exercise,” Jerusalem Post (May 10, 2016);
Harel, Amos. “Israeli Pilots Trained in U.S. With Pakistani, UAE Air Forces,” Haaretz (September 1, 2016)