Dissecting Juniper Oak 23, The Largest Ever US-Israel Joint Exercise

Juniper Oak
B-52 and Israeli aircraft integrate during Juniper Oak 23 (Photo courtesy of the IDF Spokesperson's Office)

More than 140 aircraft were involved in the exercise, as well as multiple naval and ground assets.

The U.S. Central Command and Israel Defense Forces recently completed Juniper Oak 23.2, the largest United States-Israel bilateral exercise in history. The exercise, which also included live fire events, took place both on Israel soil and the Mediterranean Sea, with complex, combined military operations on land, in the air and at sea involving more than 140 aircraft, multiple naval and land assets, 6,400 US troops and 1,500 Israeli troops.

From January 23 to 27, U.S. and Israeli combined command and control, maritime air operations, combat search and rescue, electronic warfare, suppression of enemy air defenses, air interdiction, and strike coordination capabilities were put to the test. CENTCOM said everything from space assets, a carrier strike group, strategic bombers, 5th gen fighter aircraft, electronic warfare aircraft, Special Operations forces, HIMARS missile launchers worked together in a Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) scenario on land, in the air, at sea, in space, and in cyberspace.

Live fire engagements were an integral part of the exercise, with 180,000 pounds of live munitions employed. The Space Force also took part in Juniper Oak, with low Earth and medium Earth orbit satellites under the control of the command’s new space component, SPACECENT.

“It’s the largest and most significant exercise we have engaged in together and is intended to demonstrate that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad and enduring,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder. “Throughout the week-long engagement, more than 140 aircraft, 12 naval vessels, High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, and multiple-launch rocket systems will be used during this combined, joint, all-domain exercise, increasing our ability to interoperate on land, in the air, at sea, in space and in cyberspace.”

Ryder also said the Juniper Oak exercise is not focused on defeating one adversary or threat, but is rather focused on the interoperability of U.S. and Israeli forces, dismissing some earlier claims that the exercise was simulating an attack against Iran. Nevertheless, the exercise still represents a notable show of force from the two countries.

Juniper Oak 23-2 is a bilateral military exercise designed to enhance interoperability between the U.S. and Israel militaries. Forces from U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) components and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) will participate. While this is the first iteration of Juniper Oak, it joins the long-standing “Juniper” series that the U.S. and Israel have conducted for more than 20-years. (Photo courtesy of the IDF Spokesperson’s Office)

Air and Space Forces Magazine provided a full list of the assets involved. Juniper Oak included a total of 142 aircraft, both fixed-wing and helicopters. The 100 American aircraft included:

  • Four B-52s
  • Four F-35s
  • Two MQ-9s
  • One HC-130
  • Two HH-68s
  • Four AH-64s
  • One AC-130
  • Four F-15Es
  • Four F-16s
  • 45 F/A 18s
  • One RC-135
  • Six EA-18s
  • Two KC-46s
  • Five E-2Ds
  • 15 MH-60s

Israeli forces employed 42 aircraft.

Here’s the list of IAF assets:

  • 6 F-35s
  • 18 F-16s
  • Eight F-15s
  • One CH-53
  • One UH-60
  • One Gulfstream G550
  • Two 707s
  • Two unmanned aerial vehicles
  • Two AH-64s

Six U.S. ships took part in the drills, including the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier, guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55), guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94) and USS Truxtun (DDG 103). Six Israeli ships were also present, including Sa’ar corvettes INS Hanit, INS Eliat, INS Oz, and INS Tarshis, as well as submarine INS Dolphin.

The B-52 Stratofortress bombers took part in the exercise by flying from their home bases, with seven aircraft spotted flying east across United States. Three of those B-52 were acting as spares and returned to their home base before crossing the Atlantic Ocean, while the remaining four continued all the way to Israel and returned to the US again after completing the planned mission. An E-11 BACN (Battlefield Airborne Communications Node) aircraft was also tracked in the area during the exercise.

U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets fly within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility during exercise Juniper Oak, Jan, 25, 2023. Juniper Oak is a large-scale bilateral multi-domain military exercise aimed to enhance interoperability between U.S. and Israeli armed forces contributing to integrated regional security. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kirby Turbak)

The exercise culminated in a visit to aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) on January 26 by senior military leaders from both nations. In fact, during exercise Juniper Oak 23-2, the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group operated in the Mediterranean Sea in support of U.S. 5th Fleet while still under the operational control of U.S. 6th Fleet. The command-and-control setup demonstrated the inherent flexibility of U.S. naval forces to simultaneously support operations in two regions – Europe and the Middle East.

“I’m proud of the effort from our team to support Juniper Oak, which showcased a high level of dedication, professionalism and readiness from our Sailors alongside our Israeli partners,” said Rear Adm. Dennis Velez, the strike group commander. “The command-and-control arrangement in Juniper Oak also highlighted the flexibility U.S. Navy carrier strike groups have to operate across multiple theaters of operation, and reflects the value the Navy provides to national security and regional stability anywhere in the world.”

The strike group coordinated complex, combined military operations with Israel on land, in the air and at sea, involving all elements of the team. Guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun (DDG 103) participated in a live-fire drill in addition to a large-scale strike with air assets from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7. Aircraft from CVW-7 involved in the strike exercise included 16 F/A-18 Super Hornets, four E/A-18G Growlers and two E-2D Hawkeyes. Four GBU-16 laser-guided bombs were expended on training targets.

Both US and Israeli officials agreed that Juniper Oak enhanced interoperability and the ability of CENTCOM forces to rapidly move combat power into the region. “Today the partnership between CENTCOM and the IDF is stronger and continues to grow. Our partnership is a key pillar of our commitment to expanding regional security cooperation,” said Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, CENTCOM commander.“ Lt. Gen. Hertzi Halevi, chief of the general staff for Israel Defense Forces, added: “Juniper Oak has raised our level of planning and our level of implementation of combined operations. It is always good to have our best partner here with us to learn from each other. This interoperability strengthens our ability to cope with a range of security challenges over the area.”

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.