Members of the 480th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, 52nd Fighter Wing, deployed to Uvda Air Base, Israel, to participate in Blue Flag 2019, a multinational exercise, from Nov. 3 to 14, 2019.
Throughout the biennial exercise, Airmen improved cooperation, built partnerships and practiced in a unique environment alongside service members from Israel, Germany, Greece and Italy.
“Practicing in Israel provides a great opportunity to fly at a low altitude and to fly against some live emitters, which is great training,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Andrew Burns, 480th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot. “It also allows us to see how different cultures think about problems and see their ways of problem solving, allowing us to come up with a better solution overall and build relationships with the other nations here that we can bring forward.”
Participating in Blue Flag 2019 increased the ability of the U.S. and its partners to work together.
“As we come here and train as five nations in a Blue Flag exercise, we not only increase the readiness of our aviators and United States Air Forces Europe-Air Forces Africa, but we also increase the interoperability, integration with four other partner nations,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Steven Basham, USAFE-AFAFRICA deputy commander, “There is no better opportunity to be able to increase the readiness of our units inside USAFE-AFAFRICA and also those units that are trained and ready to go to war for European Command.”
Blue Flag 2019 provided several lessons to apply in the future.
“Some of the tactical lessons learned were force structuring and how to best utilize the assets that we have available to us,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Kaleb Jenkins, 480th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot and 52nd FW exercise Blue Flag project officer. “Also, coming up with different game plans and how we are going to enable that game plan in order to work through language barriers and things like that. We worked with people that we do not normally work with when we do our normal exercises throughout USAFE. It was a bit different having to solve those problems.”
One of the abilities the U.S. used during Blue Flag 2019 to increase its interoperability with its partners was its Link 16 capabilities.
“Link 16 network is a data link between our aircraft that allows our jets to talk to each other so we have spatial orientation of where other people’s jets are,” Jenkins said. “Link 16 helps keep track of people a little easier and keep track of information on the battle space, it allows us to cut the time in the language barrier and just see a digital display of different portions of the tactical airspace. It is understanding each other’s capabilities and vulnerabilities and how do we come up with the best game plan to maximize our lethality, take advantage of all of our strengths, while protecting people’s weaknesses.”
Blue Flag 2019 also included practicing and integrating 4th and 5th generation aircraft together.
“Blue Flag 2019 allows us to look at the interconnectivity between our different system types, this (exercise) is looking at linking 4th generation to 5th generation fighters, as well as looking at how we can use Link 16 capabilities to connect both NATO and non-NATO players under the same connected network,” said U.S. Air Force Col. David Epperson, 52nd FW commander.
Exercises like Blue Flag 2019 demonstrate the U.S. determination to stand by its partners and allies.
“I think the role of USAFE-AFAFRICA and of units that are assigned to USAFE is very clear,” Basham said. “Their role is to provide standing with NATO partners and standing with other partners around the world to make sure that we are sending a clear message, ‘We will deter together and if deterrence fails, we will fight together’. This is the opportunity, right now, to send a message to many out there, that through cooperation, we can not only provide regional security, but global security.”