Largest Ever Joint US-Israel Air Defense Drill Scheduled

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- The largest joint U.S.-Israeli air defense drill to date, the Austere Challenge 12, is due to take place later this month.

The three-week exercise was postponed last spring due to regional tensions with Iran and has been rescheduled for October 21. (On the same day, Israel's Home Front Command will conduct its sixth annual national emergency drill, this year focusing on rescue operations following an earthquake.)

The joint-exercise will simulate missile defense scenarios and is expected to finish up with a live-fire interception of a decoy missile.

Some experts say Israel's enemies will fight future wars against the Jewish state from the air, with missiles and UAVs (drones) playing increasingly significant roles.  Over the weekend, one of Israel's enemies appeared to be testing its aerial defense capabilities.

Last Saturday, Israel Air Force jets shot down a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) that penetrated Israeli airspace from the west, flying over the Mediterranean Sea near the Gaza Strip.

The next day, Hezbollah claimed credit for the launch, though it's not clear the terror group's Iranian-made UAVs are capable of navigating that distance. Also on Sunday, Lebanese media reported hearing sonic booms over southern Lebanon from IAF sorties, possibly in response to the drone's deployment.

Media pundits speculated Hezbollah dispatched the drone to photograph images of the Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona. The IDF shot it down about 18 miles north of the center.

While the IDF has yet to confirm the drone's origin or purpose, it did deploy a Patriot anti-missile battery near Haifa on Monday, capable of intercepting and destroying drones and missiles.

Iran's semi-official FARS news agency said the launch exposed Israel's inefficient aerial defense system, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised the IDF's response to the incursion.

IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said the drone was identified and tracked from the ground before it entered Israeli airspace. Once inside Israel, two IAF jets followed it for less than 20 minutes before shooting it down near the Yatir Forest.  

According to Times of Israel correspondent Mitch Ginsburg, some 70 countries now have the technology to build drones, but only Israel, the U.S. and U.K. have UAVs capable of firing weapons. Israel is the leading exporter of drones and drone technology.

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