Alarms sound throughout the force's airbases, missiles fall, and personnel are wounded while airstrikes are performed: this is just a small part of how the past few days have looked like for the IAF.
A yearly force-wide exercise commenced on Sunday, and this year it was especially complex. "I feel that there is a great responsibility on our shoulders. All IAF divisions participated in groundbreaking activity over the past months. On the ground and in the air, helicopters, transport aircraft, fighter jets, RPAVs (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicles) and air defense systems – all these have done things they'd never done before", said Maj. Gen. Norkin, the Commander of the IAF, in a brief held for the force's commanders ahead of the exercise. "This takes us to the edge of our capabilities. We are at war, and so holding this exercise is more significant than ever before".
A Greater Challenge
"We're trying to simulate widespread combat in the northern theatre. We took four days in which we intensively utilize the entire extent of the air force", said Maj. R', Head of the Force Exercise Department. "We planned the exercise so it would realistically simulate the next round of combat in the northern theatre as we expect it should occur, and increased the difficulty level in order to make it more challenging".
"The IAF is considered what it is because it provides security. So far, we've done this successfully", added Maj. Gen. Norkin. "I'm very proud of what we’re doing, but it's not enough and we have to keep drilling warfare scenarios. Therefore, we went into this exercise with new tools at our disposal".
Significant Aerial Power
Flight during difficult hours, quarantining the IAF Operational HQ and facing advanced SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) batteries are a mere portion of the challenges faced by the force's service members at this time. In addition, this year's exercise directorate decide to place an emphasis on system-related issues. "The force relies heavily on systems and technology, and it was important for us to simulate a situation where many of our systems become unavailable", emphasized Maj. R'.
"The exercise has a lot of commanding components. Thus, all commanders have to get down to details. They need to show that we know what we're doing, and then do it in the best way possible", added Maj. Gen. Norkin.
Working Around the Clock
The 69th ("Hammers") Squadron, which operates the "Ra'am" (F-15I) fighter jet, is one of the force's most operational fighter squadrons. The squadron's aircrew members perform a wide variety of missions throughout the year, and their performance in the exercise is no different. "We work around the clock", emphasized Lt. S', the squadron's exercise leader. "The sorties are massive, the amount of targets we strike is large, and the weapons we use are special".
From End to End
The Air Defense Array also plays a significant role in the exercise, using all four of its weapon systems: "Iron Dome", "David's Sling", "Arrow" and "Yahalom" (Patriot). "The battalions participate in several continuous days of warfare in order to see what is the influence that combat bears on our division", said Capt. Asaf Ohana, Head of the "David's Sling" Department. "This exercise is a golden opportunity for us to drill warfare from end to end".
The Air Defense Array is coordinated with the IAF's Intelligence Directorate, which allows for a synchronized aerial overview. "This way, the targets handled by the IMC (Interception Management Center) can properly simulate the targets we'll encounter in real-time", elaborated Capt. Ohana. "Simulated training allows us to intercept any amount of targets of any sort".
"We drilled an operational order during the night", said 2nd Lt. O', an "Eitan" (Heron TP) RPAV operator. 2nd Lt. A', also an operator at the 210th ("White Eagle") Squadron, added: "We split up, and some of us fought during the exercise while others helped plan the operational activity". Throughout the exercise, the force's RPAV squadrons participated in a wide variety of missions, including directing aircraft to SAM battery locations and copious reconnaissance missions.
In the Belly of the Aircraft
Necessary for the performance of any mission in the force's tactical transport aircraft are the loadmasters. The loadmasters' job is to manage and command over missions in the cargo hold – the aircraft's core. The tactical transport aircraft's missions mainly include airlifting, transporting troops and equipment, and airdropping them in the field. Some of the challenges faced by the loadmasters during the exercise include complex cargos, large formations and unexpected scenarios.
"Several missions were pre-designated, while the rest weren't revealed to us ahead of time", explained 2nd Lt. T', a loadmaster. "We configured the cargo bay according to wartime scenarios in advance so we could operate in the best way possible".
One of the force's "Yas'ur" helicopters missions was piloting forces from the IDF 98th Division. In addition, they performed a mutual mission with the 114th Squadron – their sister squadron – and "Yanshuf" (Black Hawk) squadrons, which focused on potential wartime scenarios. "We performed two unusual scenarios which examined the squadron's operational continuity", said Lt. A', a pilot at the 118th ("Night Riders") Squadron, which operates the "Yas'ur" helicopter. "For example, we simulated the crash of a helicopter returning from operational activity, wherein the crew was wounded and evacuated to a hospital. We then had a conversation in the squadron where we discussed how we should move forward, and everyone told personal stories of their own".
"This is our mission"
The 107th ("Knights of the Orange Tail") Squadron's Technical Department, which maintains the "Sufa" (F-16I) fighter jet, has prepared for the exercise for a long while. "We had the aircraft prepared a week ago – we performed a quality assurance test to ensure that they'd be able to withstand the large amount of sorties the exercise would require. Now, we're preparing for over 36 continuous hours of hard work", said Maj. Hai Arruwas, the squadron's technical officer.
"We live in a country where the security situation isn't stable, and so this is our mission – watching over our country and its citizens", elaborated Maj. Arruwas. "In order to do this in the best way possible, we have to train. The exercise is like a knife sharpener, showing us that we're truly prepared for intensive warfare".