The IAF's primary mission is to defend Israel's skies 24/7/365. To assist the force's squadrons in their mission, a sky defense seminar was held by the IAF's aggressor squadron, the 115th ("Flying Dragon") Squadron which operates "Barak" (F-16C/D) aircraft. The seminar focused on the northern theatre, simulating hostile missile and aircraft incursions into Israel's territory, which the participants were then meant to intercept.
"We began thinking up a general idea for an exercise two months ago. We kept several things in mind: the operational theatre, recent exercises and the entire air force – where we want the squadrons to be and what we want them to focus on", said Lt. N', an air traffic controller at the 115th Squadron and leader of the seminar. "Each seminar focuses on a different field. Last time, we focused on sky defense combined with attacks in enemy territory by our forces; this time, we focused on combat doctrines we want to implement. With each seminar we think about how we should improve the air force, and what we can do in order to become better and more prepared".
A Live Theatre
Even during the 1948 War of Independence, Israel operated in a large number of theatres against a wide range of threats. Israel continues to face copious threats on numerous fronts to this day, but the IAF of 1948 and the IAF of today are incomparable. As a result, the current sky defense seminar faced the IAF with complex theatres adjusted according to its current status.
"The seminar focused on sky defense in two theatres at the same time", said Lt. N'. "We confronted the teams with threats including UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), cruise missiles, fighter jets and advanced munitions. We planned an extensive exercise for the IAF's fighter squadrons, 'Yahalom' (Patriot) air defense battalions and the Air Traffic Control units".
A training seminar was held, led by the 115th Squadron – the IAF's expert in emulating enemy forces. "We established a live theatre in order to connect between training and operationality. This is something that only the 115th Squadron can do, using fighter jets to simulate hostile aircraft, RPAVs (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicles) and deployed cells simulating hostile SAM (Surface-to-air missile) batteries. We do this by planning extensively, taking all expected scenarios into consideration", described Lt. N'. "There are pilots, WSOs (Weapon Systems Officers) and representatives from the Air Defense Division in the squadron, all of them carrying out high-quality seminars".
The 115th Squadron's aircraft fly different than the usual in the air force. For example, the squadron's aircraft are more limited than those of the usual IAF aircraft systems in order to simulate enemy aircraft. "The 115th Squadron isn't just an aggressor squadron, it's also an advanced training center. It trains the fighter jet squadrons as well as the Air Traffic Control Division and the Air Defense Division", emphasized Lt. N'. "After every seminar, officers from the squadron think up ways to improve the training for each division in the force, both separately and as a whole".
Why is an air traffic controller responsible for a fighter jet seminar? "Sky defense is a mission spread across the entirety of Israel", explained Lt. N'. "There is a variety of weapon systems capable of handling a threat of this sort, whether they be IAF squadrons or the Air Defense Division. These systems work together, watched over by the controllers at the ATC Units, who have information regarding the enemy, their location and their plans. They are responsible for coordinating the weapon systems. The importance of the air traffic controller in sky defense is critical, and will continue to grow".