(AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi)
Indian Air Force Mig 27 (L) (AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi)

India and Israel marked 25 years of diplomatic relations in 2017, and military cooperation has never been better – especially in the air.

India has sent 45 members of the Garud commandos, a special unit in the Indian Air Force, to Israel for the first time Tuesday to take part in the Blue Flag air drill.

Blue Flag is a two-week drill that is aimed at honing coordination of command-and-control, planning and targeting within coalitions operating in high-threat theaters. It is the biggest exercise undertaken to date by the Israeli air force, with seven other countries participating this year: the United States, Greece, Poland, France, Germany, Italy – and India.

According to India’s Ministry of Defense, “This is the first time the Indian Air Force is operating with Israeli AF in a multilateral exercise setting.”

This isn’t the first time they’ve trained together, however. In June 2016, Indian Air Force fighter pilots came to Israel as part of an aircrew exchange program between the forces. During their visit, the Indian aircrew members experienced the F-16I jets (called “Sufa” in Hebrew) from up close and were introduced to some of the IAF’s activity centers such as the Mission Training Center, Flight Academy, and Air Search and Rescue Unit 669. A few months later, an Israeli squadron visited India in the first joint military exercise to take place between the two countries.

Vastly different in size, the two democracies share the challenge of having enemy countries on their border and face the threat of Islamic terror. According to India’s Defense news channel, Israel is the second-largest supplier of weapons systems to India (after Russia), and has sold the Indians guided missiles and drones. Israel’s Ministry of Defense reports that this defense trade between the two countries has seen annual sales worth more than $1 billion.

According to a statement put out by the IAF last year, cooperation between the forces is expected to widen to the ATC and transport divisions and to the field of flight safety. Both forces operate the “Heron” UAV, and the C-130J “Super Hercules” tactical transport aircraft and want to share knowledge about the operational concept, maintenance, power build-up and training of these aircraft.

By: Batya Jerenberg, United with Israel