This week, after being put on hold for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the "Onisilos Gedeon" exercise was held with the participation of IAF transport and fighter squadrons, in cooperation with the Cypriot National Guard. "Conducting the exercise during the current period is challenging, but the desire to enhance ties and cooperation between the two militaries is strong, and makes for an important and meaningful exercise"
For several years now, the IAF has conducted the bi-annual "Onisilos Gedeon" exercise in cooperation with the Cyprus Air Force. However, due to the global spread of the Coronavirus, the exercise has not been held in a year. The Cyprus Military does not own any fighter jets, only helicopters, air defense, and air control systems. Therefore, the IAF sends formations of combat aircraft to the skies over Cyprus, to enable them to train with their air defense and control systems.
"Cooperation with the Cyprus Air Force is very meaningful for both us and them. Conducting the exercise during the current period is challenging, but the desire to enhance ties and cooperation between the two militaries is strong, and makes for an important and meaningful exercise", explained Capt. T, head of the exercise from the 119th ("The Bat") Squadron, which operates "Sufa" F-16I aircraft. "We have the opportunity to fly in foreign territory and train our capabilities in varying ways, while our partners in Cyprus get to practice and train with their systems against fighter jets".
Attack and Defense
The exercise trains aircrews from the various participating squadrons in several aspects - Aerial refueling, air control, attack missions, evading the enemy, and emergency landing, with the 119th Squadron's main task being air-to-air combat in the skies over Cyprus. "We divided into two formations of three and four jets. To simulate real situations, one flew to 'attack' the island and the other went to 'defend' it", described Capt. T. "At the same time, airborne controllers from the 122nd Squadron, accompanied and provided air control to the attacking formation, while the defending formation was guided by Cypriot controllers on the ground. This is a significant exercise for the Cyprus Air Force, as they don't routinely train with combat aircraft".
After the dogfight, the aircrews from the 119th Squadron performed a simulated a distant attack in threatened territory. "The Cypriots deployed a line of trucks and our mission was to strike them", told Capt. T. "At the same time, we had to avoid their surface-to-air missiles that were attempting to thwart the attack".
The 122nd ("Nachson") Squadron, which operates two types of air control aircraft, sent the "Eitam" (Gulfstream G550) to the current exercise. "The squadron's aircraft are the first to arrive to the airspace between Israel and Cyprus. We scan the area and ensure there are no threats or surprises that could prevent the exercise from continuing as planned", shared Lt. R, an aircrew member in the 122nd Squadron. "Our main task is to provide tactical air control to fighter jets during air-to-air combat, so the formation leader will receive the most optimal situational assessment and make the appropriate decisions. Our secondary mission is ensuring flight safety for the participating aircraft. We perform the exercise in an area far from our usual training. The squadron's air controllers assist in defending the airspace and watch for potential threats from a distance".
Aircraft from both the 120th and 122nd squadrons practiced forced landing scenarios in Cyprus to enhance the emergency capabilities of both forces. "The 120th Squadron's aircraft landed in Larnaca while we landed in Papos after practicing mid-flight malfunctions. This allows us to experience landing in unfamiliar terrain and the Cypriots to drill emergency air control during such scenarios", described Lt. R. "Cooperation with allied militaries is always meaningful since it allows us to look at things differently and observe other methods of operation".
The 120th ("Desert Giants") Squadron, an IAF aerial refueling squadron that operates "Re'em" (Boeing 707) aircraft, performed aerial refuelings during the exercise for almost all of the participating squadrons. "A valuable part of the exercise for us is extended flights with aerial fueling", said Capt. N, an aircrew member in the 120th Squadron.
"The exercise's success is measured, among other things, in our ability to transfer the right amounts of fuel to the squadrons. If we are unable to perform the refueling properly and sufficiently in real-time, the operating fighter jets might not be able to complete their important missions. In order to increase efficiency, on one of the training days, we flew with two tankers to expand our supply. At the end of the day, aerial refueling is a kind of coordinated 'collision' between two moving aircraft, which requires extreme accuracy - that is our specialty as a squadron".