Over the course of a week, the IAF Fighter Division drilled complex sky defense scenarios in a training exercise led by the Aerial Defense Division
Last week, "Baz" (F-15), "Sufa" (F-16I), "Ra'am" (F-15I) and "Barak" (F-16C/D) aircraft simulated warfare in the northern theatre alongside "Patriot" Aerial Defense systems as part of a combined sky defense training exercise. The exercise was led by the Southern ATC (Air Traffic Control) Unit in cooperation with the 115th Squadron, the IAF's aggressor squadron, and mainly included complex sky defense scenarios.
"This is the first time the ATC Unit has been responsible for such an exercise from planning to operation, all in full cooperation with the 115th squadron", emphasized Lt. Col. A', Commander of the Southern ATC Unit. "Our goal is to simulate the battlefield according to our expectations of the next campaign. We interpolated both defense and attack missions, while also fully expressing the ATC Unit's goal of synchronizing the airspace".
Any Place, Any Time
For four days, the IAF Fighter Division simulated prevention of hostile infiltrations. Such exercises are usually led by the 115th squadron in cooperation with another IAF fighter squadron, but the cooperation with the ATC Unit created a much more complex scenario.
"In an exercise of this sort, we practice 'Red vs. Blue' scenarios, with each participating squadron supplying the 'Red' force with two aircraft in order to improve the quality of the training", said Lt. A', the 106th Squadron's exercise leader.
"The northern theatre is the IAF's main threat. We simulated combat against foreign air forces as well as countering missiles launched from enemy states", described Maj. R', Commander of the Southern ATC Unit's Control Branch. "Sky defense in the southern theatre is completely different to sky defense in the northern theatre because the enemy is different – they aren't organized militaries, but terrorist organizations. We may be based in the south, but we are able to assist in sky defense in every place in Israel. We have to be able to fight in any place imaginable, operating any mission possible".
The participating fighter squadrons faced a wide range of missions while being attacked by enemy fighter jets and hostile SAM (Surface-to-air missile) batteries. "The IAF fighter jets performed attack missions and sky defense missions simultaneously, knowing that similar situations would arise during wartime", elaborated the 106th Squadron's exercise leader. "Training becomes much harder as part of the exercise – the 'Red' force is large, and the amount of participants requires quick decision-making".
The ATC Unit service members have an overview of the entire airspace at any given moment and are able to notify the aircrew members of dangers they are not aware of. In practice, they are able to control the entire campaign's airspace.
"The ATC Unit's role becomes twice as important when it comes to sky defense", explained Maj. R'. "The air traffic controller isn't responsible for sky defense alone - he takes part in attack missions as well. An air traffic controller who leads an aircraft formation under attack can relay the information to an air traffic controller in charge of sky defense, who can then send in reinforcements".
The reinforcements can be a fighter jet formation, but they can also be a missile operated by the Aerial Defense Division, which operated "Yahalom" (Patriot) batteries in the exercise, both real and simulated. "The Aerial Defense Division is an inseparable part of the exercise", said Lt. A', an Aerial Defense Officer at the 115th Squadron. "We focused on the cooperation between the aircraft to the 'Yahalom' batteries in the field, with the ATC Unit acting as the connecting link".