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Israeli Tests New Air-Ground Tactics Vs. Islamic Jihad « Breaking Defense

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An Israeli F-35I takes off from Uvda airbase during Blue Flag 2019.

TEL AVIV: Today, the Israeli Air Force concluded its latest Blue Flag wargames at its Uvda airbase in the Negev Desert, less than 100 miles away from an active war zone in the Gaza Strip — under 10 minutes’ flight time for a loaded fighter jet at cruising speed. For days, Israeli, US, German, Italian, and Greek fighters, including stealthy F-35s, had practiced dogfights and airstrikes against simulated air defenses, even as other IAF units conducted real airstrikes and real anti-rocket defense against Islamic Jihad.

US Air Force photo

An Italian Air Force pilot poses in front of his F-2000 Eurofighter Typhoon during the 2019 Blue Flag exercises at Uvda airbase in Israel.

The ability to wage real war and simulated war at the same time, using new and sophisticated tactics in both cases, is a testament to the growing capabilities of the Israeli Air Force. “The fact that the Israeli Air Force had to perform strikes against targets in Gaza, parallel to its participation in the exercise, was the best demonstration of how an advanced aerial force is operating,” an Israeli source told Breaking Defense.

The US and European planes weren’t involved in the Israeli Air Force’s retaliatory strikes against Islamic Jihad, which have killed at least 32 Palestinians. Nor did they aid in the IAF’s defense against more than 450 rocket launches out of Gaza, some of which continued hours after a ceasefire was announced this morning . (Unlike in the US military, in Israel the air force controls ground-based anti-aircraft and missile defenses). Indeed, details of the Israeli operations are censored and classified, although we do know they involved manned aircraft, drones – which fly an ever-larger share of IAF missions — and the famous Iron Dome anti-rocket system. But the visitors were neutral, not blind, and they couldn’t help but notice the activity on their radar screens.

“The Americans and other foreign pilots could follow some of the operations that enabled the high precision strikes against rocket launchers,” an Israeli source told Breaking Defense.

US Air Force photo

A Greek Hellenic Air Force pilot climbs aboard his F-16 for the Blue Flag 2019 exercises at Uvda airbase in Israel.

The Blue Flag exercise began Nov. 3, while the fighting in Gaza broke out early Tuesday after an IAF strike killed Islamic Jihad leader Bahaa Abu Al-Ata and his wife. (Foreign media report that Israel also attempted to assassinate an Islamic Jihad official in Damascus). In stark contrast to previous rounds of violence, the Palestinian group that dominates Gaza, Hamas, stayed out of the fight this time – and Israel for its part painstakingly avoided even scratching Hamas installations.

So precise were the IAF strikes, in fact, that one missile reportedly killed an Islamic Jihad field commander by flying through his bedroom window before exploding. Other challenging targets included the terrorist group’s highly mobile rocket launcher teams, often mounted on motorcycles so they could quickly speed away from a launch site after firing. (This method of avoiding retaliatory strikes is a variant of the shoot-and-scoot tactics practiced by conventional armies’ artillery units as well).

This precision was made possible not only by new technology but the complete reorganization of the Israeli Defense Forces’ southern command. The foundation for the campaign was intensive intelligence gathering by both military and civilian intelligence. During the fighting, sources told Breaking Defense, a process codenamed “Canopy” allowed IDF intelligence cells to pull in real-time data from surveillance drones continuously monitoring Gaza, detect potential targets, and positively identify them as hostile – “incriminating” them – in seconds. (Regular BD readers may remark this tight “sensor-to-shooter” link is a simplified, miniaturized version of what the US military is attempting to do in its emerging concept of Joint All-Domain Command & Control).

Raytheon photo

Iron Dome missile defense system.

Meanwhile, on the defensive side, the recently upgraded Iron Dome units reportedly shot down over 90 percent of the rockets whose trajectories threatened densely populated areas in Israel. (Iron Dome projects the point where each incoming threat will hit and saves ammunition by ignoring those that won’t threaten human life – which is a lot of them, because the rockets used by terrorist groups are chronically inaccurate). With seconds after a rocket would launch from Gaza, Israeli civilians received warnings on their TV screens and cell phones showing what areas were at risk and advising residents to take cover.

Meanwhile, the Blue Flag wargames involved dozens of Israeli aircraft, from aging F-15Is to the IAF’s new F-35I “Adir” variant, and at least 34 foreign fighters: a dozen F-16s from the US and four more from Greece, six German Eurofighters and six Italian ones, and six of Italy’s own F-35s. Also participating were Israeli Patriot missile batteries – manned, like Iron Dome, by Air Force troops – that were modified to simulate the advanced Russia S-400 air and missile defense systems that Moscow is now exporting to Turkey and offering to other Mideastern nations.

While the Israeli Air Force hasn’t faced the S-400 in combat yet, the simulated battles are good practice for real wars to come.

Screencap from Air Force video

An F-16 (left) taxis towards distant F-35s at Uvda Air Base in Israel during the 2019 Blue Flag exercises.

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