In the last few months, the 11th course in the "Red Baron" squadron ended. The squadron’s role is to train German crews to operate the Israeli "Eitan" (Heron TP) RPAV, as the German Air Force is in the process of developing their own version of the aircraft. "The 'Red Baron' squadron is the only non-Israeli Air force squadron that permanently operates in the IAF"
In January, 2019, a special event took place at Tel Nof AFB - the opening of the "Red Baron" squadron. The new squadron is unique in that its main job is to train German aircrews to operate the "Eitan" (Heron TP) RPAV, operated by the 210th ("White Eagle") Squadron. The IAF cooperates with the German Air Force on many occasions, such as the "Blue Flag" exercise. The squadron is an example of the strong collaboration in the field of RPAV's between Israel and Germany - a significant strategic partner in Europe.
"The 'Red Baron' squadron is the only non-Israeli Air force squadron that permanently operates within the IAF", opened Capt. A, Course Commander in the squadron. The German Air Force is in the development stage of their own RPAV, similar to the "Eitan", which requires them to train teams to pilot the aircraft. The "Red Baron" Squadron does just that. After a long process, the German Air Force decided to use the "Eitan" RPAV. They concluded that the operational advantage they could gain from the IAF's knowledge and experience was second to none".
It was the first time the IAF committed to the long-term, permanent training of an external Air Force on one of its bases. "Other exercises with ally forces takes place, but never with the same frequency and format", explained Capt. A.
According to the agreement signed by the two countries, different types of training are available for different positions. The first course the squadron offers is a conversion course - designed for aircrew members and payload operators, who are trained in their respective RPAV platforms.
"The course has two stages. The first of which is the basic stage, where crewmembers learn how to take off, land, and operate in states of emergency. They fly around the base in determined flight paths", described Capt. A. "The second stage is the advanced stage where teams are involved in operational execution, flight, behavior, and teamwork between crewmembers. They practice operational scenarios and execute emergency flights in the flight simulator".
Recently, a conversion course in which 12 crew members were trained took place. Once the German RPAV completes its development process, the "Red Baron" Squadron hopes to train the German teams directly, on their aircraft, as opposed to on the IAF's "Eitan". "In order to train them, we'll also need to operate the aircraft and gather experience and flight hours on it", mentioned Capt. A.
In addition to the conversion course, the "Red Baron" Squadron takes a course intended to maintain readiness. "Once every six months, the trained teams need to take a course to preserve their readiness on the system", detailed Maj. A. In the long-term, supporting infrastructure will be added to the base where German personnel will be permanently deployed, and will train alongside an Israeli Flight Instructor.
The German Air Force works in cooperation with a German civilian company, which executes the ground operation of the aircraft, and handles the take-off and landing of aircraft in test flights. Additionally, the squadron holds a training course for both German operators and technicians. Furthermore, the squadron holds a Flight Instructors Course. "In the course, we instruct the teams on how to teach others to operate the platform", detailed Capt. A. "They very much appreciate how the IAF instructs, our abilities, pugnacity, operational experience, and knowledge. They want to learn from us how to instruct".
Developing a Bond
Over time, the relationship between the Israeli and German teams developed. "Today, the friendship and partnership we formed between sorties is highly noticed", mentioned Capt. A. "Besides the professional knowledge and personal treatment, we created a cultural plan for them that includes traveling to various Israeli landmarks. In the last course, they asked to visit the World Holocaust Remembrance Center 'Yad Vashem'. It was a very meaningful event".
Nonetheless, the teams still need to bridge a few gaps. "The cultural gap accompanies us - the teams come from a different country, their customs and culture are different than ours. Consequently, we were careful at first. Slowly, once we got to know each other, we managed to bridge the gap", explained Capt. A.
Israel, the IAF, and Germany
For Capt. A and many others, the opening ceremony of the squadron, held in 2019, was a meaningful event. "On the squadron's grounds stand three flagpoles, with the flags of Israel, the IAF, and Germany", told Capt. A. "In the opening ceremony, Israeli and German teams stood side by side. When Israel's national anthem, "Hatikva" played, both teams saluted. The same thing occurred with the German anthem. It was an empowering event".
I asked Capt. A what the future holds. "Founding a German squadron in Tel Nof AFB", he answered. "The squadron's activity and cooperation with Germany contribute greatly to the State of Israel and the IDF. This is strategic cooperation with a strong European country".
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The German Ministry of Defence in June 2018 awarded Airbus Defence and Space a contract to provide Heron TP unmanned aircraft “as well as all operational services required for the system,” the company announced at the time.
“The project will have a two-year set-up phase, followed by an operational phase lasting a further seven years, thereby bridging the gap until a sovereign European drone will be developed,” Airbus added.)