The IAF's first priority is protecting Israel's skies. To maintain readiness, fighter squadrons train for a wide variety of scenarios. Last week, five squadrons participated in an exercise that simulated a state of war. "During this period that is affecting the entire world, the IAF is continuing to prepare and make necessary adjustments in order to conduct safe and effective exercises and to ensure maximum operational fitness and effectiveness"
An unidentified aircraft is seen approaching Israel's northern border and threatens to enter Israeli airspace. Within seconds, the Northern ATC (Air Traffic Control) unit detects it and launches fighter jets to neutralize the threat. At the same time, an additional aircraft enters Israel at top speed. The IAF is responsible for protecting all of Israel's aerial borders - and that is exactly what fighter squadrons trained for last week as part of a widespread aerial protection exercise.
The IAF's First Priority
"Aerial protection is the IAF's first priority- it is etched on every wall", described Lt. A, an ATC in the IAF's enemy simulation squadron, the 115th ("Flying Dragon") squadron, which led the exercise. "The squadrons train for a period, build themselves, and generally conclude with an aerial protection exercise that challenges them according to the current situation".
Fighter squadrons from different divisions participated in the exercise. The 101st ("First fighter Squadron") squadron and the 105th ("Scorpion") squadron, which operate "Barak" (F-16 C/D) aircraft, the 106th ("Edge of The Spear") squadron that operates "Baz" (F-15) aircraft, the 119th ("Bat") squadron, which operates "Sufa" (F-16I) aircraft, and the 140th ("Golden Eagle") Squadron which operates "Adir" (F-35l) aircraft.
The 115th squadron led the exercise, with the purpose of challenging the participating units and ensuring that each squadron benefits based on their needs. In order to perform optimally, the squadron prepared in advance. "We use Intelligence and conclusions from previous exercises. This way, we know exactly what points we want to focus on. That is the expertise of the 115th squadron- understanding how to improve relevant aspects of previous exercises, and that is why we lead the exercise", explained Lt. A.
"We communicate with each squadron, and briefly interview them. This way, we can get an idea of where it stands, what it trained for, what it did not, and what will help it improve most. We know how to challenge each squadron. Furthermore, throughout the exercise, we listen to the squadron's communications devices and crewmembers, and can accordingly challenge them.
The ATC units practice their capabilities as well, and the role of the 115th squadron ATC's is to challenge the members of the unit. "I need to know how to challenge them. I have the ability to turn off the regional ATC unit's radar, and test how they function when they can't see enemy aircraft", explained Lt. A.
The ATC units have great importance in the operational success of the IAF. However, an aircrew member needs to have the ability to manage without the assistance of the ATC, in case it is necessary. "If an aircrew member needs to intercept an RPAV (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicle) and a fighter jet at the same time, the ATC unit will prioritize. However, in reality, things can get more complicated and the aircrew member in the cockpit is the one to make the best tactical decision".
The modern "Adir" (F-35I) aircraft brings to the table new capabilities that affect the enemy simulation techniques of the 115th squadron. "We didn't know how to use these new abilities and how to take advantage of them until now." explained Lt. A. "The fifth-generation aircraft communicate between one another differently than fourth generation aircraft. This influences the manner of the communication. This is the first time the "Adir" fully participates in this type of operational scenario.
The exercise is very significant for the 101st squadron, providing them with operational fitness after six months of not participating in practice scenarios of this magnitude. "We take advantage of this exercise to include the operational element", explained Lt. G, an aircrew member in the squadron.
"During this period that is affecting the entire world, the IAF is continuing to prepare and make necessary adjustments in order to conduct safe and effective exercises and to ensure maximum operational fitness and effectiveness", concluded Lt. A. "It is important we maintain optimal operational fitness, so the IAF will be fully prepared for every scenario and be able to protect the state of Israel in real-time".