Dozens of Planes in the Sky Dozens of Planes in the Sky One base, five “blue” squadrons”, one “red” squadron, dozens of planes up in the aerial space of almost half the country. This is just a taste of the “blue flag” exercise conducted in Ovda Airbase. All in preparation for the 2013 international exercise

Michal Khayut and Shani Poms | Photography: Yonatan Zalk

It is not every day that you get to see an aerial team member get excited over the view of airplanes waiting for takeoff. When you take a closer look at the numerous planes waiting for the control tower’s approval, it is hard not to feel emotional. In only a few seconds it is going to begin: One by one, out of every direction, combat aircrafts take off in a dizzying rush. At first you think you could follow their actions, but they disappear out of sight in seconds and dash towards the designated aerial training zone. Up there, dozens of airplanes will fight head to head, blue teams against the red team, which is simulating enemy squadrons.

An hour and a half beforehand, one of the blue squadron team members was seen shaking the hand of “Munir”, an enemy pilot (on any other day, an IAF aerial crew member of the Flying Dragon squadron). In a short while, they will combat fiercely soon, but for now, they’re listening to a brief together before the “Blue Flag” exercise, the Israeli version of the “Red Flag”. After the “enemy” teams leave the room, the blue teams stay still and listen to the mission they are about to complete. Commander of the mission stands up and explains about the aerial intelligence picture, targets and tactical plan.

Chief of Air Staff: “I had to deal with MiGs and missile batteries at the same time”

The Blue Team’s goal is to invade enemy lines and attack designatred targets as they avoid missile batteries, fight against airplanes and deal with other dangers that the “Flying Dragon” Squadron planted in their way. “The surprises we left for the “blue” team are mainly tactical”, says Lieutenant Colonel Itay, commander of the “red team”. “Along their way, they will see that there are differences between the intelligence information and threats they received and what is happening out on the field. The “blue” team will have to prepare some reactions and other tactical plans in order to deal with the obstacles”.

The obstacles challenged even the most experienced pilots. “I had to deal with air-to air- threats of simulated MiGs and surface-to-air missiles at the same time”, says Brigadier General Hagi Topolansky, Chief of Air Staff, after he participated in the first air show as a “blue” pilot. “As I went along, I had to complete the mission and reach our targets without getting attacked”.

Preparing for the International Aerial Combat Exercise in 2013

Regardless of the intense training of the various combat squadrons, “Blue Flag” had one goal: preparing for the groundbreaking international exercise to be held in Israel during 2013. “The upcoming exercise is our vision of an international exercise held in Israel come to life”, explains Brigadier General Amikam Norkin, Head of the Aerial Formation, “During the exercise, several representatives from around the world will arrive here in order to practice. This cooperation will allow us to learn new things, strengthen our bond with the IDF, and other foreign forces”.

When the international exercise (the first of such size in israel) will take place, aerial crew members from all around the world will occupy Ovda Airbase and the Israeli skylines with numerous combat airplanes, much like the American “Red Flag”. Though it seems as if the American red flag is making Aaliyah, Lieutenant Colonel Itay clarifies that the exercise encompasses Israeli motives. “We are trying to make the exercise very Israeli and showcase the IAF’s specialties and fortes”.