The 131st ("Knights of the Yellow Bird") Squadron is undergoing a unique modification process with its "Karnaf" (Hercules C-130) aircraft. As part of the "Karnaf" modification project, the aircraft's lifespan is due to be extended by at least ten years. "The IDF and the IAF will be able to use the 'Karnaf' aircraft for many more years with the addition of new operational capabilities adjusted according to the dynamic theatre", said Lt. Col. A', Squadron Commander.
"The change is significant. The modification upgrades the aircraft's structure and advanced avionic systems, adding improved operational capabilities. This allows us to perform our missions as precisely and securely as possible while also expanding the range of our abilities".
Two Different Squadrons
"The integration process began in the squadron in the middle of 2016 and has progressed throughout the past year", said Maj. A', Deputy Commander of the establishment squadron. "We founded an establishment team and divided the aircrews into two – an establishment department and an operational department. As a result, some of them are in charge of establishing the squadron in its new configuration and developing combat doctrines, while the others carry on with routine activity and operational missions. In practice, these are two different squadrons. This allows the establishment department to put all its effort into integrating the new modified aircraft".
A prototype of the aircraft underwent modification throughout a year-and-a-half-long process beginning in September 2015. Afterwards, more and more aircraft began modification, so that the operational department grew smaller while the establishment department grew bigger. Today, 50% of the squadron's aircraft have already been modified, 25% are undergoing modification and the remaining 25% are still inactive. "We underwent several IAF inspections meant to examine the new aircraft's fitness in performing various operational missions. The final inspection will occur in 2019, and afterwards the aircraft will be declared fully operational", explained Maj. A'.
As part of the modification process, the aircraft's controls were digitized, the navigation systems were replaced with more advanced systems and a new advanced radar was implemented. "According to the IAF's definition, this is a new aircraft. The changes that were made were substantial and turned it into an aircraft that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world", explained the squadron commander. The new aircraft has no operational instructions, so the squadron members have to develop procedures and combat doctrines by themselves. The technical department has to learn new parts of their job as well. "We're trying to see how we can improve in performance and use the new aircraft for better results", emphasized Maj. A'.
The new "Karnaf" aircraft is the first of its kind and as a result, no simulator can provide the crew members with complete training. "We found a similar simulator which enables partial training. In three years, a designated simulator should be available, allowing us to train properly", explained the squadron commander.
New Aircraft in Action
The new squadron is due to be officially established in the beginning of this May. The operational department in charge of the old "Karnaf" aircraft will shut down and every IAF "Karnaf" aircraft will be modified. "Only time will tell how the process influenced the squadron and the IAF", concluded Maj. A'. "But each one of the aircraft's capabilities has been modified. These days, we can work in a better, more accurate fashion while utilizing our new operational capabilities".