Blue Flag 21: Israel's largest exercise wraps up at Uvda AB

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kevyn Kaler
  • 52nd Fighter Wing

On Oct. 28, eight nations finished the fifth iteration of a successful Blue Flag exercise at Uvda Air Base.

Participating nations completed the final phase of the campaign scenario within the exercise designed to integrate multinational air forces’ fourth- and fifth-generation capabilities to increase interoperability and ensure a collective defensive edge.

“To have the F-16s work with the fifth-generation platforms, [it] gives us a chance to work on sensor integration, making sure the airplanes can talk to each other, pass information, and then really work on the tactics for a higher-end fight if we have to go against a competitive adversary,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Kristoffer Smith, 52nd Operations Group commander at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. “The opportunity to work with different platforms lets us figure out how they work, what their best methods are for employment, and then the best way for us to integrate with those partner nations.”

The 480th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from Spangdahlem AB is a second-time participant in Blue Flag. Units supporting and participating in this event honed key skills and leveraged opportunities to integrate with partner nations.

“This exercise probably has double the nations they had last time, so a lot more interoperability with different nations than we’ve had in this exercise before,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Shaun Loomis, 480th EFS commander. “You get a chance to see different tactics, different ways they do things. Everyone out here knows how to fly their jet, knows how to employ their jet, but the biggest thing is learning how to integrate different capabilities and different platforms into the mission. It’s been really good to learn from them as well.”

Joining the U.S. Air Force's F-16C Fighting Falcons for the exercise were the French Air Force and Indian Air Force Mirage 2000s, Hellenic Air Force F-16C, Israeli Air Force F-35 Lightning II, F-15I Eagle, and F-16I and F-16C, Italian Air Force F-35, and Royal Air Force and German Luftwaffe Typhoon FGR4.

This is the first deployment of a British fighter squadron in Israel since the establishment of the country, as well as the first deployment of an Indian Mirage fighter squadron and a French "Rafale" fighter squadron to Israel.

This multi-national integration provides best practices and lessons learned to participating units, including the 52nd Fighter Wing. Support and maintenance units were able to identify innovative and efficient ways to streamline the mission to generate F-16 Fighting Falcon sorties, and aircrew and mission planners identified new ways to integrate and develop collaborative mission success.

“We’ve been primarily [executing] our SEAD mission, suppression of enemy air defense, making sure we neutralize the [Surface-to-Air-Missiles] so that the strikers and air-to-air can do their mission without being threatened by those missiles,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Bjorn Nielsen, 480th EFS integration specialist.

Nielsen said one of the largest, lasting lessons throughout this event is the partner nation integration and enduring relationships built through a challenging and valuable exercise, strengthening interoperability and layering individual participants’ capabilities.

“Everybody out here wants to win, but we all have different ways of doing that,” said Nielsen. “That’s the interesting part … getting together with the different nations and figuring out how we are going to win together, focusing on each other’s strengths and minimizing each other’s weaknesses.”