Israeli Air Force "long range training": getting ready for Iran?

As happened in 2010, once again Decimomannu airbase hosted the “Vega” (VEX), a small-scale multinational exercise that this year was attended by 20 aircraft belonging to the Italian, Israeli and German Air Force.

Even if the news that Decimomannu was expected to host Israeli Air Force (IAF) fighter planes was widely advertised on websites around the world, specific details about their activities were surrounded by a veil of secrecy, as happens each time the Heyl Ha’ Havir attends an exercise outside Israel.

However, the presence in European airports of IAF planes always attracts the interest of aircraft enthusiasts, spotters as well as journalists or analysts who can not miss the opportunity to see up close some of the most advanced and rare Israeli “hardware” at work.

This year, along with the Gulfstream G550 Eitam CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning), that last year I described as

a sort of mini-AWACS equipped with 2 L-band antennas, on both sides of the fuselage, and 2 S-band antennas, on the nose and tail of the aircraft. The antennas are part of a EL/W-2085, a Phalcon and Green Pine (used for the Arrow Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile Missile, ATBMM) derivative. Another G550 variant (that did not take part in the exercise) is the Shavit, the SEMA (Special Electronic Mission Aircraft) the SIGINT platform equipped with the EL/I-3001 Airborne Integrated Signal Intelligence System.

the IAF brought to Decimomannu the F-16C and D “Barak”, which differs from other C versions because of the extensive local modifications and a dorsal spine believed to accomodate Electronic Warfare equipment and various electronic systems.

Once again the Israli left at home one of the most advanced weapon system in their orbat, the F-16I “Sufa” a multi-role plane equipped with Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFT) which increase the internal fuel capacity by 50%; the APG-68(V)X SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar), that provides day and night, all weather, automatic target tracking; Israeli-made Helmet Mounted Cueing System; Dorsal spine Avionics Compartment, hosting “advanced electronic warfare systems developed in Israel”, and Satellite Communication suite.

Commonly, the only available reliable information are those officially disclosed by IAF/IDF spokepersons. Indeed, even if some pictures of the VEX11 had been published on some websites, Internet forums, Facebook and Flickr pages, the first interesting details about the detachment were published by the IAF and by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that suggested that the IAF planes were involved in a long-range attack exercise in the article “Israel Air Force conducts drills for long-range attacks” : “The drill included most of the aviation components that are likely to take part in future long-range attacking missions: combat squadrons, aerial refueling and air monitoring stations.”

Even if those assets could be used in a long-range strike mission, the type of activity that they performed in Italy has little to do with long range bombing. According to the information released by the Israeli Air Force in the video below, the HHA pilots have begun using the Sardinian base because it offers training areas above the sea or unpopulated areas that are not available in Israel and . Furthermore, exercises as the VEX11 give the combat proven IAF the opportunity to improve cooperation by sharing experiences, procedures and tactics with NATO units equipped with different weapon systems, as the Typhoon or the Tornado.


Even if some Israeli media ignited the spreading of theories which suggested that the recent Israeli drills have been conducted in anticipation of a possible long range attack on Iran, I rule out this possibility. The VEX11 was planned many months ago – the deployment of Israeli fighters in Sardinia was advertised by some websites from more than 12 weeks – and it’s goal was mostly to put the IAF strike force’s deployability and capability to operate from a FOB (Forward Operating Base), rather than its ability to destroy distant targets, under test.

Finally, I think the IAF has been preparing for an Iran strike for years….

The following pictures were taken at Decimomannu by Giovanni Maduli during VEX11.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a 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 five books and contributed to many more ones.