This week, the 101st ("First Fighter") Squadron and the 119th ("Bat") Squadron – which operate the "Barak" (F-16C/D) and the "Sufa" (F-16I) fighter jets, respectively – trained together in southern Israel. However, the exercise would not have been possible without the 115th ("Flying Dragon") Squadron, which simulated the enemy forces. Read on to see what the exercise looked like from the enemy's point of view.
Red vs. Blue
A "Barak" jet flies over enemy territory, its aircrew tasked with performing a secret mission. A SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) battery detects the forces and launches a missile in their direction. At the same time, two enemy fighters arrive at the area with the goal of intercepting the "Barak" jet. The aircrew members now have to decide how to handle the elaborate threat while completing their mission successfully.
The "blue force" now has to eliminate the hostile threat – the "red force". "They have to handle both the SAM batteries and us, the OPFOR (Opposing Force) aircraft, all of which are trying to shoot them down", explained Maj. A', Deputy Commander of the 115th Squadron. "This is a situation they wouldn't arrive at in a routine exercise at the squadron".
The 115th Squadron's personnel establish the exercise incrementally. "We begin the week-long exercise with basic scenarios, such as dogfights or flight near SAM batteries", described Maj. A'. "By the end of the week, we begin combining the two. The difficulty level rises and the aircrew members encounter unexpected events in real-time".
In order to establish a high-quality exercise adjusted according to the participating squadrons, an aircrew member from the 115th Squadron remains on the ground at all times in order to direct and look over the various scenarios. "The directing aircrew member listens to the blue force on the radio. Then, he radios the red force and tells them when they should push harder, or step back a bit", said Maj. A'. "Our goal as an aggressor squadron is to establish a challenging exercise while keeping it safe for all involved".
Optimizing the Challenge
The exercise was held in a simulated missile-laden area. Each missile battery launches missiles at a certain range according to its capabilities. "The range of our missiles marks the training area", explained Maj. A'. "We try to implement this threat into our exercises as much as possible, so the participating squadrons learn how to handle such events in case they ever encounter them".
"Of course, the missiles are only simulations", added Maj. A'. "We overload the aircrews' radios in order to get them to use the entirety of the aircraft's capabilities".
"The participating aircraft – the 'Barak' and the 'Sufa' – are different in several aspects, including weight, engine power and EW (Electronic Warfare) systems", added Maj. A'. "Each squadron has different capabilities, and each squadron trains a bit differently. As OPFOR, we have to know the squadrons well in order to adjust ourselves according to the training at hand".
"The goal of the exercise isn't just drilling operational situations – there hasn't even been an operational dogfight since the 80s", emphasized Maj. A'. "The goal is to drill flight elements and make the participating aircrews better pilots".