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The U.S. and Israel yesterday kicked off Juniper Oak 23.2, a bilateral, live-fire exercise that takes place in both Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, said Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.
"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," Ryder said during a briefing today at the Pentagon.
The exercise, Ryder said, enhances the United States' ability to respond to contingencies and underscores the U.S. commitment to the Middle East region.
"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."
Participants in Juniper Oak will exercise U.S. and Israeli command and control capabilities, air operations in maritime surface warfare, and combat search and rescue abilities. U.S. and Israeli partners will also work together to enhance interoperability on electronic attack, suppression of enemy air defenses, strike coordination and reconnaissance, and air interdiction.
"This exercise is focused on interoperability and strengthening our security relationship in terms of working together," Ryder said. "As evidenced by …, most recently, the counter-ISIS campaign, the ability to pull air forces together seamlessly and operate in a way that is going to be effective is vital. This is one aspect of that, although the exercise is obviously more than just about airpower."
Ryder said the Juniper Oak exercise is not focused on defeating one adversary or threat, but rather the interoperability of U.S. and Israeli forces.
"The United States maintains many relationships in the Middle East region with many countries," he said. "Israel is one of our closest partners in the region ... this gives us the opportunity to work together to increase interoperability, to be able to respond to a variety of contingencies and threats ... that should we need to operate together, we can do so seamlessly."
During the briefing, Ryder also touched on the war in Ukraine. In mid-December, the Defense Department announced plans to provide Ukrainian soldiers with combined arms and joint maneuver training.
Soldiers from U.S. Army Europe and Africa Command's 7th Army Training Command are now providing that training, Ryder said. It's expected to last about six weeks.
"The training has begun," Ryder told reporters. "It started mid-January ... Once that training is complete, ... those forces will go back into Ukraine."
The department is keeping open the option to repeat the training if the Ukrainians ask for more, Ryder said.
"It's not a 'one and –done' type of program, he said. "That'll be Ukraine's decision in terms of providing additional forces to go through that cycle. We certainly expect them to do that. But at the end of the day, that's their decision given the situation on the ground."