The 101st ("First Fighter") Squadron may be a fighter squadron, but besides its namesake it also performs aerial photography missions inside and outside of Israel. Read about the F-16 squadron collecting intelligence all across the Middle East.
It's late at night, heavy rainfall, cloudy skies and zero visibility – these are the conditions in which the 101st ("First Fighter") Squadron's "Barak" (F-16 C/D) aircraft take off from Hatzor AFB. The aircrew members' goal is collecting military intelligence in enemy territory – information which is able to influence the entire campaign.
The 101st Squadron utilizes the "Barak" aircraft for various missions, including attack and intelligence collection in numerous theatres. It performs photography missions in unique flight conditions. "The military can have any ability and resource at hand, but without high-quality intelligence, the force and its capabilities mean nothing", said Maj. B', the 101st Squadron's Deputy Commander.
Intelligence collection begins long before the aircraft takes off. There are parts in the IDF and Israel's security forces termed "consumers" which require an intelligence overview of the various theatres. "We decide which squadron to operate according to the consumers' request, and maintain communication with the combatants throughout the flight", elaborated Maj. A', Head of the Photography Department in the IAF Air Operations Directorate. "After the flight, the intelligence overview is deciphered. After it's deciphered, we relay it to its respective consumer and reach conclusions regarding the situation using the newly collected information".
Aerial footage following an airstrike
Several IAF divisions perform intelligence collection missions, including the RPAV (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicle) Division, the Transport Division and the Fighter Division. Some may wonder why jet fighters are required for such missions seeing as their main mission is performing attack sorties. "The Fighter Division has several advantages in the field of intelligence collection. Jet fighters are fast, capable of flying under threat and at higher altitudes. They provide the air force with a wider intelligence overview", elaborated Maj. A'. Maj. B' added: "There are certain intelligence collection sorties in which we aren't able to predict the other side's response. In such situations, it's preferred that the participating aircraft has high survivability and maneuvering capabilities".
Anything Can Change
The IAF's intelligence collection squadrons are usually the first ones to encounter a new threat. Seeing as the aircrew members take off on sorties meant to collect intel regarding the enemy, they are the first ones to encounter threats. "A completely regular sortie can change in a moment and you don't know where it'll head", described Maj. B'. "Aircrew members need to know how to act in such situations, and so our goal as a squadron is to be prepared in case the enemy decides to surprise us, perform the mission and land safely".
The 101st Squadron specializes in intelligence collection under special conditions. The squadron's "Barak" aircraft are equipped with a special system adjusted according to activity in all weather conditions. According to the collected intel, the air force's planned flight routes can change entirely.
"Our enemy understands that in darkness and under challenging conditions, it would have more freedom to operate. The squadron operates in these conditions in order to provide an exact intelligence overview whenever it takes", said Maj. B'. "In some situations, you take off late at night and fly in cloudy skies. In spite of the challenging circumstances, you have to perform your mission and stay safe".
Influencing the Theatre
As a fighter squadron, the 101st performs attack missions alongside intelligence collection. "We participate in more operational activity than we did in previous years", elaborated Maj. B'. "Even the squadron's newer pilots partake fully in operational activity and cross enemy lines. It develops us significantly".
"The two opposites of operational activity are intel collection and attack", he added. "Some of the intel we collect ends up becoming a target attacked by either our squadron or other fighter squadrons. Between our actions, we have to maintain the squadron's routine operation. Operational activity always comes first, and our goal is to perform our mission free of error. In order to withstand the challenge, we have to balance our missions".
Throughout the years, the IAF has developed advanced combat doctrines and intel collection systems. The force is responsible for significant intel, both in routine and emergency situations. The force's intelligence service members are responsible for receiving and analyzing data, operating various intel collection systems, and relaying the data to those responsible for planning operational activity.
"Sometimes people think that the only ones behind an attack are those who planned it, but in practice, there are significant preparations beforehand without which no mission can be performed", emphasized Maj. A'. "Intel collection missions influence the current operational theatre more than ever. Thanks to them, attack missions can be performed successfully".