An Israeli Air Force F-16 et takes part in the exercise ‘Blue Flag-17’exercise
JERUSALEM: A 45-member contingent of Indian Air Force (IAF) is in Israel to take part in a two-week multilateral military exercise, in what is believed to be the largest joint-combat drill in Israeli history.
The IAF commandos left to take part in the exercise ‘Blue Flag-17’ on October 31, and are expected to boost capabilities and coordination with the air forces of Israel and eight other nations. The exercises are being conducted at Uvda Air Force Base in Israel from November 2-16.
Blue Flag is a bi-annual multilateral exercise which aims to strengthen military cooperation amongst participating nations.
The 45-member Indian contingent, led by Group Captian Maluk Singh VSM, is also closely working with Israel's select Special Forces during the Blue Flag aerial training exercise with the focus on learning what makes them excel at special operations.
"We would look to learn and share with them the procedures followed in mutual interoperability, counter-terrorist operations, a method of inducting and training people and try and compare to see if a course correction is required at our end," an Indian officer leading the Garud commandos told PTI.
"The Israelis are more battle-hardened as they have more experience in cross-border operations and we can learn from their experiences," the officer added.
The Garud commandos will be collaborating for a week each with Israeli Air Force's elite units - Unit 5101 (more commonly referred to as the Shaldag Commando unit) and Unit 669 (Airborne Rescue And Evacuation Unit).
The Garud commandos started training with Unit 669 earlier this week on Sunday and would be moving to the Palmachim Air Force base next week to train with the Shaldag Unit.
Unit 669 was initially mandated to extract and provide medical treatment to downed (and possibly injured) pilots beyond enemy lines. However, in later years the unit also participated in the extraction of soldiers of other arms of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), especially Sayeret (Special Forces) fighters in operations beyond enemy lines and seamen in distress.
Shaldag's declared mission is to deploy undetected into combat and hostile environments to conduct special reconnaissance, establish assault zones or airfields, while simultaneously conducting air traffic control and commando actions.
Its operators undergo the longest training phase of any unit in the IDF, lasting 22 months, and training has a heavy emphasis on navigation.
The mandated role of Garud Commando Force, whose motto - 'Defence by Offence' - matches closely with the task assigned to these two special units of the Israeli Air Force.
"They are very strong as far as special forces are concerned. This is one area we are definitely looking to learn from their experience", Maluk Singh told PTI.
The Blue Flag drill is a biannual exercise designed to strengthen Israel's military cooperation internationally. This is the first time India is participating in the drill, along with the US, France, Germany, Italy, Greece and Poland. An unidentified eighth nation is also said to be participating in the military exercise as per local media.
Israel is among the top three to four arms suppliers to India with sales ranging from Phalcon AWACS (airborne warning and control systems) and Searcher, Heron and Harop UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to Aerostat and Green Pine radars, Barak anti-missile defence and several types of missiles and laser-guided bombs.
As part of the exercise, foreign crews will practice handling the threat of advanced surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles, with the Israeli Air Force's so-called Red Squadron playing the role of the enemy. The exercise will include flights in formation with planes from different countries, with no countries opposing each other.
Lt Col Nadav, Commander of the 133rd Squadron (Knights of the Twin Tail), which operates 'Falcon' (F-15) fighter jets and is leading the exercise, described it as a "significant milestone in the relationship between the Israeli Air Force and international air forces".
"This exercise will allow us to continue cooperating with these forces in the future as well," he said.