July 20, 2009 (by 2nd Lt. Emily Chilson) - Flying at home station is necessary for training, but flying with other units, especially an allied unit like the Israeli Air Force, results in valuable experience and preparation for the fight.
IDFAF F-16D block 52 #421 from 253 sqn is seen flying alongside block 52 #425 from 119 sqn heading out to the Nevada Test and Training Range during a training mission at Red Flag 09-4 at Nellis AFB on July 16th, 2009.
A squadron of F-16Is from Ramon Air Base, Israel
, is one of the nine units participating in Red Flag 09-4 through July 24 in Las Vegas.
Red Flag exercises present a unique experience for U.S. and allied units to fly together against red air, or 'enemy' aircraft provided by the Aggressor Squadrons at Nellis Air Force Base, in a realistic combat environment.
The Israeli Air Force's "Bats" squadron is made up of the F-16-I Storm, a multi-role, two-seater fighter jet capable of low flying, strike and offensive counter air.
Captain Gilad, a 25-year-old IAF pilot and Tel Aviv, Israel, native, experienced Red Flag for the first time this week.
"So far Red Flag has answered my expectations," he said. "It's very interesting. We can learn a lot from each other. We're learning new tactics and flight techniques, but there are a lot of similarities too."
Red Flag is an optimal venue for pilots from U.S. and allied units around the world to work together in a combat environment. The IAF pilots bring new procedures or methods for U.S. pilots, while the IAF pilots also learn from their U.S. counterparts.
"The reason anyone comes to Red Flag is to learn how to fight together," said Maj. Kate Lowe, Red Flag Air Boss. "So Just like U.S. forces from different squadrons or sister services come together to participate, we bring in allied forces to get to know both their fighting capabilities as well as the people themselves."
Israeli Air Force pilots speak to one another in Hebrew, and while language has the potential to be an obstacle, it's practically a non-issue at Red Flag.
"Language barriers are always a challenge, but their English is way better than my Hebrew," Major Lowe said.
It's not so much the language itself, as it is the technical terminology used in mission planning and briefings in the Red Flag building.
"Most of us know pretty good English," Captain Gilad said, referring to his comrades. "But it's the different acronyms, and aviation talk that is sometimes challenging."
When it comes to skill, Captain Gilad and his fellow IAF pilots came prepared for any challenge Red Flag 09-4 threw at them. The only thing new, he said, is the terrain, the base and training rules - which are a bit different from those in the IAF, but not too much.
For example, IAF F-16I pilots are allowed to coast at 100 feet off the ground, while U.S. F-16s have to stay at 500 feet unless they're strafing, a term related to ground attack.
"We learn a lot from U.S. pilots, like daily routines and how to give organized briefings, but flying here is one of the main goals that we want to experience," he said. "Flying in unknown terrain - it's very different than flying in our homeland where we know every rock and every corner."
Coming from a country that's only about 300 miles in length by 30 miles in width, Captain Gilad isn't kidding when he says he knows every rock and corner. And while the terrain presents the IAF with new challenges, the heat of Las Vegas, he said, isn't so much of a problem.
Another plus Red Flag offers U.S. and Israeli pilots alike, is the scale of the flying missions. Unlike home station flying, Red Flag missions encompass many different types of aircraft flying Large Force Employments, or LFEs.
"We do a lot more basics training in Israel," Captain Gilad said. "Flying here is more mission-oriented."
When he's in Israel, Captain Gilad serves in two squadrons. One squadron is operational, where pilots are on alert, and ready to respond to emergencies or threats. In the other squadron, he's an instructor pilot, teaching other pilots about combat - especially dogfights. Although his military commitment is up, Captain Gilad chooses to remain in the IAF.
"In Israel everyone has to be in the military," he said. "By testing, they choose if you go in the army, navy or air force."
Captain Gilad attended the Israeli Flight Academy for three years, but it took two additional years of training before he became operational, or ready to fight. Although the IAF is not involved in a fight right now, earlier this year, he fought in the Gaza Strip conflict.
"We have to be very cautious because it's so close to home," he said. "We attack very strategically. But right now it's mainly homeland defense and protecting our citizens."
Like the U.S., Israel recognizes the diplomatic and strategic need to maintain allied relationships.
"We have a great relationship with the U.S. Air Force," Capt Gilad said. "A relationship we want to keep and make better."
And the Air Force recognizes that America's strategic partnerships are more important than ever. Red Flag is vital in fostering and maintaining those relationships, capitalizing on the global community of like-minded Airmen while enhancing interoperability between allies and partners like Israel.
"It's not only the mentality and the way the U.S. and Israeli air forces approach planning and executing tactics, but also our systems," Major Lowe said. "Are our radios compatible? Are our weapons compatible? Can we hear each other? Better to know it now than when the bombs are dropping."
This may be Captain Gilad's first Red Flag, but it won't necessarily be his last. The IAF, according to Captain Gilad, tries to send pilots of all ages and experience levels to Red Flag.
"We could find ourselves here again," he said. "We always send someone who's been here before for better guidance. Coming to Red Flag is a big privilege, and everybody wants to come because it's very good experience for us."