Everything You Need To Know About ‘Blue Flag 2021, The Largest And Most Advanced Air Exercise Ever Held in Israel

Blue Flag 2021
Elephant Walk for Blue Flag 2021 at Ovda AB. (Image credit: IAF)

4th and 5th generation aircraft from Israel, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, UK and US are taking part in Blue Flag 2021. Here’s everything you need to know.

Ovda (or Uvda) Air Base, north of Eilat, Israel, is once again the main operating base of “Blue Flag” an international training exercise organized by the Israeli Air Force and attended by air forces from around the world “to strengthen cooperation between the nations.”

The previous edition, in 2019, attended by “just” four guest nations was referred as the most advanced international Air Force exercise in Israel’s history. Blue Flag 2021 is going to be even largest: with 8 participating nations, the drills will be the largest and most advanced aerial exercise ever held in Israel.

İsrail’de düzenlenen “Mavi Bayrak 2021” Tatbikatına hangi ülke hangi uçakla katılıyor.#BlueFlag2021 pic.twitter.com/eh5LsjSJOW

— StanteaR (@StanteaR_) October 19, 2021

This is how the IAF presented the exercise on their official website (highlight mine): “Holding an international exercise in this current reality, while continuing our public 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”.

The 2-week exercise currently underway and ending on Thursday Oct. 28, 2021, marks several “firsts”: it’s the first time a British fighter squadron deploys to Israel since the establishment of the country; it’s the first time an Indian “Mirage” fighter squadron deploys to Israel as well as the the first time a French “Rafale” fighter squadron deploys to Israel.

Guten Morgen – und weiter geht’s! Unser @Team_Luftwaffe is ready for Take-off am dritten Tag von #BlueFlag2021 in Israel. Insgesamt nehmen mehr als 60 Kampfflugzeuge aus 8 Nationen an der internationalen Übung teil – mit dabei sind u.a. 🇺🇸, 🇬🇧, 🇫🇷, 🇬🇷 und 🇮🇹. pic.twitter.com/qOnsr2wM8V

— Verteidigungsministerium (@BMVg_Bundeswehr) October 19, 2021

Blue Flag 2021 – a flyover by jets participating in the largest multinational aerial exercise ever to take place in Israel, October 17 2021. #BlueFlag2021 #Germany #fighterjet #Jerusalem #F35 #F15 #photography pic.twitter.com/gyIww9u7Ft

— ziv sokolov (@zivso) October 17, 2021

In terms of participating types, “Blue Flag 2021” sees the return to Ovda of the Italian Air Force F-35A and G.550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning), that took part in the latest iteration of the drills in 2019. The Indian Air Force has deployed the Mirage 2000I.

Visited the Ovda airbase to meet the @IAF_MCC participants at Ex Blue Flag – No 1 Sqn “TIGERS”.

Delighted to see the mutual respect and chemistry between Indian and Israeli Air Force professionals. Defense and security are key pillars of our relationship. pic.twitter.com/4CcrzNKklR

— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) October 19, 2021

The German Air Force has deployed six Eurofighters, including the one dubbed “Eagle Star”, a special colored jet sporting the Israeli and German flags that took part in a joint honorary flyover in Israeli skies: Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, commander of the Israeli Air Force, led the flyover in a F-15 “Baz” with Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, Commander of the German Air Force, piloting the “Eagle Star” Eurofighter.

The Eagle has landed – Unser #EagleStar ist gerade nach 4,35 Flugstunden auf dem Fliegerhorst Uvda in Israel gelandet. Mit 5 weiteren #Eurofighter|n ist er unser Anteil an der Übung #BlueFlag21, die am Sonntag beginnt. #BF21 @IAFsite @IsraelinGermany @GerAmbTLV pic.twitter.com/vpvnHs0It4

— Team_Luftwaffe (@Team_Luftwaffe) October 12, 2021

F-15I fighters of the #Israeli Air Force and Eurofighter Typhoon of the #German Air Force (Luftwaffe) at the opening ceremony of the #BlueFlag2021 exercise. #Israel pic.twitter.com/mUtFYo8ZyX

— Dana Levi דנה🇮🇱🇺🇸🇬🇧 (@Danale) October 17, 2021

In 2019, the Red forces’ role was flown by the F-16Cs “Barak” of the 115th Squadron “Flying Dragon”, the aggressor squadron of the Israeli Air Force, supported by the Air Defense Array’s “Yahalom” (Patriot) batteries that simulated enemy SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) systems. The F-35I Adir, at their first Blue Flag, also flew in the aggressor role. This year, the Red Air can count on the IAF’s “Sufa” (F-16I) squadrons, led by the 115th Squadron playing the aggressor role. It’s not clear whether the F-35I will also fly the adversary mission or will integrate with the U.S. and Italian Lightnings.

“We are living in a very complicated region, and the threats to the State of Israel from Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran are only increasing. Holding an international exercise in this current reality, while continuing our public 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”, said Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, Commander of the IAF in a public release.

An interesting Elephant Walk (that included some support assets, like the G.550) was arranged for Blue Flag 2021, along with a large dissimilar formation with aircraft from all the 8 participating nations.

Spotted just now in Tel Aviv: a flyover by jets participating in Blue Flag 2021, the largest multinational aerial exercise ever to take place in Israel.

🇮🇱🇺🇸🇬🇧🇩🇪🇫🇷🇮🇹🇬🇷🇮🇳 pic.twitter.com/Wm6xXKoeue

— Avi Mayer (@AviMayer) October 17, 2021

Two years, Flightradar24.com, ADSBExchange.org or Planeradar.ru proved that the Royal Jordanian Air Force had also taken part in the exercise with its F-16s although Jordan was never officially listed as an international participant to Blue Flag 2019. As explained back then, not only were RJAF F-16s spotted flying over Israel, but Israeli and other participating nations aircraft operated over Jordan during Blue Flag. While most of the activity will not be visible on flight tracking websites, some aircraft can be tracked online:

Military Aircraft Activities recorded over the Eastern Mediterranian. Monday 11/10/2021 #adsb #intelsky #BlueFlag2021 pic.twitter.com/kS8Dd5uUom

— INTELSky (@Intel_Sky) October 12, 2021

Let’s see if something interesting emerges in the next few days.

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David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

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