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Joint International “Blue Flag” Air Force Exercise

(October 17-28, 2021)

The “Blue Flag” joint exercise began on October 17, 2021, at Uvda Air Force Base in Israel. The previous exercise, in 2019, was attended by the U.S., Greece, Italy and Poland. France, Germany, and India joined the exercise making it the largest and most advanced aerial exercise ever with almost 80 fighter jets participating. It was later reported that the UAE sent its air force commander to observe the exercise and that two Jordanian F-16 fighter jets also took part.

According to the IDF:

The goal of the exercise is to strengthen strategic international cooperation through shared learning about the integration of fourth and fifth-generation aircraft in complex operational scenarios, with a focus on broadening and enhancing the operational capabilities of the participating forces. The exercise provides the opportunity to conduct joint tactical flights against a variety of threats using advanced technology. Throughout the exercise, the participating forces will drill air-to-air and air-to-ground combat, advanced surface-to-air missiles (SAM) threats, and various operational scenarios in enemy territory.

The exercise also reflects the improvement in relations with Britain and France. The IDF noted this was the first deployment of a British fighter squadron in Israel since the establishment of the country, as well as the first-ever deployment of an Indian Mirage fighter squadron in Israel, and the first deployment of a French Rafale fighter squadron in Israel.

Israeli and German fighter jets fly over the Knesset on October 17, 2021.
(Israel Defense Forces)

On the first day of the exercise, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, Commander of the Israeli Air Force, led a flyover of Jerusalem in a “Baz” (F-15) alongside an Israeli “Adir” (F-35I) and the “Eagle Star” Eurofighter, specially painted with the Israeli and German flags, flown by Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, Commander of the German Air Force.

“The [Israeli Air Force] has two main goals in the exercise: The first is to improve the operational readiness of all air forces involved via a quality mutual training experience while creating a fertile ground for mutual learning,” Lt. Col. Guy, head of the Training Branch in the Israeli Air Force Air Division told Aviation Week. “The second is to show the world that the [Israeli Air Force] is an advanced, strong and leading force and to improve Israel’s international status as a result.”

Commander of the Israeli Air Force, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin noted the importance of the exercise on the IDF website:

We are living in a very complicated region, and the threats to the State of Israel from the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran are only increasing. Holding an international exercise in this current reality, while continuing our overt and covert operational activities on all fronts, is of utmost strategic importance and has extensive impact over the Israeli Air Force, the IDF, and the State of Israel. This exercise is groundbreaking in terms of technology, quality of training, and the number of participating nations. It illustrates the partnership and strong bond between the nation's air forces and acts as a stepping-stone toward regional and international cooperation.

Sources: “Opening of the Blue Flag 2021 Exercise, the Largest and Most Advanced Held in Israel,” IDF, (October 14, 2021).
Amit Agronov, “Blue Flag: Showing Force In Israel,” Aviation Week, (October 2021).
Judah Ari Gross, “German military planes fly over Jerusalem for 1st time since WWI in show of ties,” Times of Israel, (October 17, 2021).
Judah Ari Gross, “German photographer spills the beans: Jordan flew in IDF aerial drill,” Times of Israel, (October 29, 2021).