As ground threats continue to grow in Israel's surroundings, OPFOR (Opposing Force) training in the IAF becomes more and more prominent. Advanced missiles, simulative technology and determined soldiers face the IAF's aircrew members with challenging exercises and prepare them for the threats of the future. An IAF Site reporter joined the IAF aggressor squadron's ground department
We are in an ambush. Jordan is on our right, a mountain ridge is on our left and all around is the sprawling desert. Each one of the ten soldiers around us is equipped with an M-16 and surrounded by a large amount of small missiles and flaming barrels. Suddenly, a pair of "Baz" (F-15) aircraft pierces the sky in attempts to evade the ambush they are trapped in. The soldiers around me, who are currently simulating enemy combatants, begin launching missiles towards one of the aircraft, which then sets off flares to defend itself. Seconds pass, the aircraft evade successfully and the squad lies in wait for its next prey.
The IAF utilizes a variety of OPFOR (Opposing Force) measures in order to train its aircrew members: the 115th ("Red Dragon") Aggressor Squadron acts as OPFOR in face of the force's pilots and WSOs (Weapon Systems Officers) every day of the year. Some of the simulative training's main components include flight in a missile-laden area, flight under the threat of an ambush and flight in complex conditions. Alongside development of the IAF's aerial aggressor squadron, the force is also developing a strong, challenging ground OPFOR, as a result of the fact that most of the threats faced by aircraft come from the ground.
"Our focal points in exercise change every year according to the dynamic operational theatre with the goal of simulating the theatre as best as we can", said Maj. A', head of the squadron's OPFOR department. "Over the past years we have seen a significant force buildup process in some of the surrounding countries, as part of which said countries integrated advanced SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) batteries. Some of the OPFOR batteries at our disposal are considerably old, and we are working towards integrating newer platforms". These batteries are operated by Rafael Ltd. for the air force, simulating various SAM batteries such as the SA-2, SA-6, SA-3 and SA-8.
Lt. S', an officer at the Advanced Training Department, explained: "Nowadays, the missiles are more complex than the batteries show. As a result, we began working on a project which will provide the batteries with the precise physical data of each missile, which will allow the exercises to become more reliable for the training crews".
A Change of Course
Simulative training took a larger part in the air force following a new IAF multiyear exercise plan, which came from the widespread perception that the "Adir" (F-35I) fighter jet and "Lavi" (M-346) trainer aircraft brought significant changes to instructional concepts in the force.
"Israel's territory is small and limited and so are the OPFOR batteries at our disposal", said Maj. A'. "Nowadays, thanks to significant developments in computing capabilities, advanced batteries can be simulated using virtual means as well. Optimal training may require 'the real thing', but virtual training can be a viable option as well".
The virtual training system simulates various threats using a computer on the ground capable of communicating with the fighter jets. "The simplicity in operating the system allows us to integrate it in every training – however, it is limited and requires a direct line of sight between the antenna and the battery", elaborated Maj. D', Head of the Fighter, Transport and EW (Electronic Warfare) Simulator Department. "We began developing a new form of training due to be integrated by the end of 2019. It is a kind of simulated aerial training – fighter jets will have the ability to train alongside a completely simulated OPFOR, simulated within the aircraft's systems. The combination between the virtual SAM batteries and the OPFOR in the field helped us establish the best training possible".
"The IAF needs to establish a challenging training field which is as realistic as possible in order to allow for a high-quality training", elaborated Maj. A'. "Virtual training and BVR (Beyond Visual Range) threats provide us with practice capabilities we'd never had before. However, it's important that we continue to maintain basic aircrew instructional processes such as visual identification of launches. This is a critical capability".
As Relevant as Possible
In addition to development of simulative OPFOR measures, there is also constant development of the 115th Aggressor Squadron's Ground Department. The unit produces various scenarios using radio devices, pyrotechnics and other means: for the Fighter and Transport Divisions they simulate ambushing shoulder-fired missile squads and convoys; for the Helicopter Division they simulate 'blue forces' as well, such as downed pilots, ambushed forces and casualties requiring extraction.
"We always try to be as relevant as possible. We don't want to simulate old scenarios. With the help of the Intelligence Directorate, we receive all the intel we can regarding the enemy and establish our exercises accordingly", said Maj. K', Commander of the 115th Squadron's OPFOR Department. "Using missiles, flares, flaming barrels and simulative devices, we are able to simulate an actual threat to each one of the force's aerial divisions. This way, we can examine their modes of defense and present each squadron with an in-depth report regarding their operation with the title: 'the IAF in the eyes of the enemy'".