Businesses, coffee shops, and restaurants throughout Israel are closed indefinitely, its streets slowly empty. However, the IAF continues to operate in all its bases and units while following guidelines from the force's Chief Medical Officer and Israel's Ministry of Health. The IAF site delivers you reports all the way from Ramat David AFB in northern Israel to the IAF's underground HQ.
A few days ago, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was defined by the WHO (World Health Organization) as a global pandemic. "The pandemic began three months ago in China, and has since spread to over 150 countries, in which it has infected approximately 160,000 people", details Col. S. "The spread of the virus is affected by three factors - the amount of contact, the risk in each contact, and the period in which a carrier can infect others. The outbreak of the virus requires us to limit these three".
"The IAF ascribes crucial importance in preventing the COVID-19 outbreak. Since IAF bases are large and operational, IAF service members execute operations 24/7 and in relatively crowded spaces such as underground hangars and control vehicles which risk infection", elaborates Col. S. "If someone from the base were to be infected, that would damage the base's operational continuity since many people will need to be quarantined. Therefore, we as IAF service members are required to have strong discipline and special attention towards the behavioral guidelines".
"We are dealing with an international, unique, and historical event", explains Col. S. "It's important to keep in mind that as much as we stick to the behavioral health guidelines, we'll minimize our chances of infection and infecting in our departments, bases, squadrons, and batteries. Additionally, one must follow the rules outside of the unit as well to protect his or her family members", emphasizes Col. S. With that in mind, how does the work routine in the IAF's different units look like in light of the coronavirus outbreak in Israel, and how could we maintain the IAF's operational capability during these times?
Like Any Other Operational Threat
The IAF's Aerial Defense units maintain high operational capabilities and mission readiness. Maj. Noy, Commander of the "Bariah" battery in the 137th battalion, which operates the "Iron Dome" missile system, tells us from the field: "In the battery, we handle the foreseeable dangers of the coronavirus like we would any other operational threat. We make daily threat assessments as a battalion and in the battery itself. The goal is to maintain the operational capability of the battery".
Maj. Noy continues and explains how they currently face the virus. "We operate in ways that significantly decrease the likelihood of infection. We debrief our soldiers on keeping maximal hygiene and emphasize disinfecting before entering operational complexes. These actions are very important to minimize potential harm to crucial soldiers in the battery, as well as to make everyone feel safe and clean", continues Maj. Noy. "We continue to train in all fields and try to sustain a standard routine as much as possible. We all understand the situation we're dealing with and the responsibility we shoulder in staying healthy as soldiers".
The Training Continues
Changes have been made in the IAF's training bases as well, including the IAF's Technical School, where IAF technicians undergo their professional training. "Upon a state of emergency in Israel - war or in this case a pandemic, training is conducted in an emergency format", shares Ssgt. Yinon, Commander of the Munition Course in the school. "The soldier's fitness should develop quickly in the field. Something like this hasn't happened in a long time, but we can't change the situation".
The new guidelines for Israeli citizens and soldiers affect the training process. "During the training course, we make sure our soldiers follow the crowding guidelines carefully and keep a distance from one another. Furthermore, the cadets clean the base every few hours to maintain a high level of hygiene", adds Ssgt. Yinon. Nevertheless, the training courses maintain a normal routine. "Our job as commanders is to ensure the health of our soldiers and provide them with a standard routine".
The IAF's Central Control Unit is occupied 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The unit includes the IAF Operations Department, which functions as the force's reporting and distribution mechanism. "We're responsible for gathering all the reports we receive, document the various events, as well as deliver crucial information and accurate situation reports to the IAF's high-ranking officers", describes Cpl. Maya, an operations clerk in the IAF Operations Department.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak, the shifts of the unit's service members were adjusted to fit the situation - all to keep the soldiers healthy and the unit working at all times.
"We were divided into three groups. Each group includes all the necessary personnel for executing the missions at hand", explains Cpl. Maya. "At the end of each shift, the groups switch with no physical contact, through separate phones, and different rooms. If someone from my group were to catch the virus or need to be quarantined, only one group will be harmed and not the whole unit. That way, we could continue operating fluently".
A New Reality
The 117 squadron ("The First Jet"), which operates "Barak" aircraft (F-16 C/D), also maintains full operational capability. "The soldiers came back from vacations in their homes into this new reality", explains Maj. Haim, the squadron's Technical Officer. "On one hand, we sense a feeling of uncertainty because something like this has never happened to us before and we have no experience on the matter. On the other hand, our morale is high and we understand this is an important mission. Everyone in the squadron is devoted to it and understands its meaning".
The squadron's aircrew members execute various missions while maintaining high personal hygiene by using disinfection stations and having a high awareness of the subject. "Our priority is clear", emphasizes Maj. Haim. "First, maintaining full operational capability, then preventing the virus's spread, and finally conducting training sorties. We defined a policy that determines how the IAF's aircrew members need to reach the underground hangar, which people they're exposed to, how the technician ties them to the aircraft, and how they need to dress before arriving at the aircraft. This week, we conducted the first flight day in this method. We'll debrief, learn from our findings, and improve as we go".
The coronavirus outbreak causes concern for many citizens in Israel, including those with children serving in the IDF. "My feelings are reversed", tells Maj. Haim. "Parents are much more relaxed knowing their children are located in a closed base with strict rules. Our initial goal is to protect these soldiers since they're a valuable resource to Israel and the IDF. The IAF's policy on the matter significantly protects our soldiers, who are in a kind of quarantine on base".
"Maintaining the IAF's operational capability is more important than ever. As a military, our job never ends. The pandemic doesn't mean there's suddenly world peace. We have to be prepared for every scenario at all times", emphasizes Maj. Haim. "I believe in my soldiers and trust them blindly. I know we'll be able to execute our operational missions while minimizing the spread of the virus. We have unique, complicated, and challenging times ahead of us that I'm sure we'll go through successfully".