U.S. Third Air Force Commander: Austere Challenge 12 shows great promise

Leaders of the IDF and the U.S. Armed Forces held a joint press conference yesterday, discussing their largest combined exercise to date

Date: 25/10/2012, 11:43 PM     Author: Yair Barzilai and Adam May

Yesterday (Wednesday, October 24), leaders of the IDF and the U.S. Armed Forces held a press conference in honor of this week's beginning of Austere Challenge 12 (AC 12), the largest combined exercise held between the two militaries to date. U.S. Third Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin and IAF Air Defense Head Brig. Gen. Shachar Shochat addressed the press conference, discussing the aerial defense drill and the mutually beneficial relationship between the militaries.

Lt. Gen. Franklin discussed the components and progress of AC 12. "More than 1,000 U.S. troops, including a Patriot missile battery and an Aegis missile defense ship, are integrated with other U.S. and Israeli assets as part of an overall comprehensive missile defense network for this exercise," he explained. "AC 12 is promising to be a great success. I expect that we will meet all of the training objectives for everyone involved. The command post exercise will begin this week and will be followed by a series of smaller cooperative drills that will conclude approximately three weeks from now."

Lt. Gen. Franklin also explained that the purpose of the drill "is to test and hone our combined abilities to defend against missile attacks, as we seek to maintain peace through preparedness."

Brig. Gen. Shochat likewise focused on the importance of the relationship between the two militaries. "The cooperation and professionalism displayed by the officers and enlisted personnel on both sides proved just how much we have to learn from each other," he noted. "Together with the United States, we have the world's best, most state-of-the-art air defense system."

"lt is the obligation of any country to protect its homes and residents from assault – this is what we are practicing, side by side with our American colleagues," he continued. "This exercise aims to improve the interactions between the IDF and the US military, enhance inter-operability, and strengthen the strong relationship we already share."

During a question-and-answer session following the initial speeches, Brig. Gen. Shochat discussed the deterrent value of the drill, saying that "when you see two professional armed forces such as the U.S. and IAF air defense forces working together, practicing together, of course it is also a message of deterrence, and I hope the other side also understands it like that."

Brig. Gen. Shochat also discussed the IDF's commitment to aerial defense in an exclusive interview to the IDF Website earlier this week. "The State of Israel, the Ministry of Defense, the IDF, the Israel Air Force, and the Air Defense Command have the most advanced capabilities in the world in defense against missiles and rockets," he explained. "We have thousands of soldiers working 24/7, 365 days a year, with anticipation and focus, in the central mission of the Air Force, which is protecting the skies of the country."

Counterparts working side by side

Cpt. Marie Thornton of the U.S. Army and Cpt. Shlomit Rodnitsky of the IDF

Two Patriot anti-missile defense batteries – one belonging to the IDF, the other to the U.S. Armed Forces – were recently deployed on the beaches of Tel Baruch, which sit within sight of Tel Aviv’s skyscrapers, for the exercise. During yesterday's press conference, the commanders of each military's Patriot batteries took time to compare and contrast their respective rigs.

Cpt. Shlomit Rodnitsky, commander of the IDF’s patriot battery, reflected, "There are both differences and similarities between our two batteries, and that is part of what is fun for us during the exercise – discovering the subtle differences and learning from each other.”

Her American counterpart noted that the atmosphere is one of cooperation, as American and Israeli soldiers work side-by-side, overcoming communication and logistical barriers. “The cooperation is significant. We share the same attitude of wanting to take care of our soldiers. We both have that bond,” said Cpt. Marie Thornton, the commander of the American Patriot battery. “I would love for my soldiers to interact with as many counterparts and partners as possible, because it’s a priceless experience.