"We trained for a lot more than this"

An Israeli combat navigator shares his experience of preparing for an Iranian attack, and the night it happened.

Dean Shmuel Elmas Shortly after Hassan Mahdawi, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force in Syria and Lebanon, was killed in Damascus, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) began preparing its pilots and navigators for a fierce Iranian response using a familiar solution: the Elbit Systems simulators routinely found on IAF bases. Judging by the result, there is no doubt the preparations were successful: of the 185 unmanned aerial vehicles, 36 cruise missiles and 110 ballistic missiles launched at Israel, 99% of threats were intercepted. This was thanks not only to Israel's multi-layered air defense system, but also aided by fighter jets.

"We trained for a lot more than that," Major (res.) A., a combat navigator in Squadron 253, who took part in the interception operation told "Globes." "Defending the skies over the State of Israel is our number one mission. Accordingly, we train in the air and on the simulator… Every pilot or fighter navigator trains on a simulator, starting with basic training." In fact, the IAF has added, in addition to routine air training that takes place mainly over maritime space, an additional 15% of simulation sortie practice.

A huge cost saving

There are also s significant economic considerations to simulators. According to "Forbes," an F-16 flight hour, for example, costs $8,000. Therefore, the option of running a simulator instead means a big cost saving. Elbit is one of the leading companies in the simulator industry, on an international scale, and not just for airflight simulation. In May of last year, for example, the company won a $71 million UK Ministry of Defense contract to supply simulators for the main battle tank Challenger 3, which is expected to enter service in 2027, and the new Boxer armored personnel carrier.

Simulators for F-16 aircraft provide several trainers, including trainers for map-reading, aircraft structure and systems, and the highlight: the mission training center ,which enables trainees to practice different types of scenarios, while saving on flight time. "The simulator allows you to practice for several sectors, day or night, and the involvement of manned platforms," explains Major A. "Within this framework, you have aircraft systems, you can operate them, make radar contact, see the target, launch missiles, and shoot it down".

One interesting options for Elbit's simulators -- also used by the Greek Air Force, among others -- is to practice formation flight scenarios, and the involvement of most parts of the chain of command. The IAF control center is in the Kirya compound (Rabin Camp) in Tel Aviv, but the controllers are the ones who allocate planes for this purpose, and they play an active role in the simulation.

Put us in the simulator.

"This is the flight experience as it really is. You sweat, experience the tension, and challenges, and that's what’s great about it. You’re inside a glass dome, and the plane behaves like a plane. Instead of training against a target, four of you are training together, which enables management of space and formation."

"Like a science fiction movie"

A few short hours before the Iranian attack, Major A. and his comrades were already prepared. "It started with preliminary intelligence some time before; the squadron decided to raise alertness in advance of the event. During that long period of time, we prepared, were briefed, and trained. Our squadron was very prepared in many aspects, and I found myself on standby for the defense of the country's skies."

The combat navigator shares his feelings about those moments of truth in an airborne cockpit. "There was a great deal of uncertainty. Israeli citizens knew about everything from the news, but ultimately, we didn't know what was going on, and we were cut off from the media. We were well briefed, there was intelligence, but in the end, you can't know how you will function in situations you’ve never experienced."

At those moments, the IAF -- with forces in the air and the air defense system forces on the ground -- was pushed to the edge. "Immediately after takeoff, we saw dozens, if not more, of the air force's aircraft, all of them in a defensive posture. I’ve never experienced that number of aircraft in the same sector at the same time."

Major A especially remembers the moment when the report came in about hundreds of UAVs expected to arrive within the next hour. "Accordingly, they divided us into sectors, and way the system worked was that one aircraft entered the sector and replaced the one before. It looked like a science fiction movie. Suddenly I was there, and that's exactly what we trained for."

Major A. asks to end the interview with an important message: "The Air Force isn’t only pilots and navigators. There are many soldiers, officers, and non-coms, as well as air defense fighters, who worked at a historic level that night."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 21, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

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