Fire From Gaza Punctuates Israeli-U.S. Exercise
Simulations Meet Reality Amid Cross-Border Escalations
Nov. 17, 2012 - 09:00AM By BARBARA OPALL-ROME - Defense News
TEL AVIV — The largest Israel-U.S. air defense drill concluded last week
under combat conditions as simulations and preplanned live fire were
conducted amid actual rocket salvos from Gaza and escalation along Israel’s
long-dormant border with Syria.
Multifront engagement scenarios designed for the thousands of U.S. and
Israeli forces participating in Austere Challenge 2012 grew exceedingly
realistic in the closing days of the biennial drill, as operators and joint
task force commanders from U.S. European Command (EUCOM) witnessed at least
four operational intercepts by the Israeli Iron Dome.
By the time the drill culminated Nov. 12 with live fire from U.S. Patriot
Advanced Capability-3 (Pac-3) missiles, more than 120 rockets — including
extended-range Grads — had been fired at the Israeli homefront, forcing
hundreds of thousands of residents within 40 kilometers of the border into
shelters. On Nov. 14, a day after the drill officially concluded, the
Israeli military launched “Operation Pillar of Defense,” a widespread aerial
campaign aimed at reducing the rocket and missile threat from Gaza.
In parallel, Israeli forces last week fired their first shots into Syria
since the 1973 war in response to stray shells from the ongoing Syrian civil
war that landed in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights.
Israeli military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said the two separate
engagements with Syria — warning shots Nov. 11 and a direct hit on a Syrian
artillery launcher Nov. 12 — offered a clear message to Syrian President
Bashar Assad that Israel would not tolerate spillover from internal Syrian
clashes into Israeli territory.
At week’s end, as most of the 1,000 or so U.S. military personnel stationed
in Israel for the drill were making their way back to Germany, Israel’s
Northern Command remained on high alert for threats from Syria. Down south,
Iron Dome batteries were activated against the rocket threat while the
Israel Air Force intensified airstrikes against weapon storage sites,
smuggling tunnels and other targets throughout the Hamas-administered Gaza
“These are very difficult days [which require] further bilateral cooperation
in defense against future missile threats, as well as persistent operations
against Hamas and the Iranian terror threat in Gaza, which is likely to
intensify and expand,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters.
Barak hailed the Austere Challenge drill for underscoring the deep
cooperation between the two militaries and for bolstering Israeli
In a press call before the drill, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin,
commander of the Third Air Force and regional air defense commander for
EUCOM, said the $30 million drill, known as AC12, marked the largest in the
history of U.S.-Israeli strategic cooperation. It involved Pac-3 batteries,
an Aegis cruiser, the U.S.-operated AN/TPY-2 X-band radar deployed here and
advanced communications links enabling simulated joint task force
Overall, more than 3,500 U.S. military personnel, from multiple locations
across Europe and the Mediterranean and in Israel, took part in the drill,
which involved a logistics-centric deployment phase, extensive simulated
joint task force operations against salvos on multiple fronts and Patriot
live fire against simulated targets.
The Israeli contribution was estimated at 30 million shekels ($76.4
million). It involved nearly 2,000 personnel and all layers of Israel’s
planned multitiered active defense intercepting network, including the
Arrow, Iron Dome, Patriot and Pac-2, used against air-breathing targets, and
command-and-control elements of the developmental David’s Sling.
Franklin insisted the scenarios simulating salvo attacks on multiple fronts
were notional and “not related to any particular recent world event.”
Nevertheless, representatives from both countries said last week’s barrage
of Gaza-launched rockets, combined with fire across the Syrian border,
injected real-life urgency to simulated joint operations.
“AC12 took place in a realistic threat environment, to say the least. Many
of us will remember it as the nexus between simulation and actual combat,”
an Israel Air Force officer said.
In the coming weeks, U.S. and Israeli officers will conduct post-drill
evaluations and apply key lessons to the planning of the next major
bilateral drill, scheduled for 2014.
Israel Air Force Brig. Gen. Doron Gavish, recently retired air defense
commander, said the drill and ongoing exercises between drills were
strategically significant in honing the ability of both countries to operate
jointly against evolving threats.
“We’re not waiting for every other year to exercise together. Today we have
a standing relationship with all the commanders, and we conduct a lot of
small-scale training on a regular basis,” Gavish said.