“Noble Shirley”, a mutual exercise in which the IAF and GOC (Ground Arm Command) Headquarters trained alongside the U.S Marine Corps and the U.S Army, has come to an end. The Israeli “Shoval” (Heron 1) UAV took part in the exercise for the first time. “The Americans are good friends of ours so we want to provide them with the best exercise we can”

Vered Talala | Translation: Ofri Aharon & Ohad Zeltzer Zubida

Israeli and American helicopters, and for the first time, Israeli UAVs, all participated in the exercise that has become a tradition and simulated a variety of scenarios.

“Beyond the IAF’s strategic interest in international cooperation, we shared knowledge and learned from one another in order to improve our training abilities”, stated Lt. Col. Gadi, Commander of the “Nocturnal Birds” Squadron which operates the “Yas’ur” CH-53 helicopter.

Israeli and American Aircraft Side by Side

Photography: Mor Tzidon

An Israeli UAV Directing 100 Marines
In the past few years, international cooperation has been defined as a main goal in IAF activity and is reflected in improvement of training abilities, knowledge sharing and establishing the IAF as a leading and significant force. With these goals in mind, the “Shoval” (Heron 1) UAV from the “First UAV” Squadron, participated in the exercise for the first time in what was the first step towards cooperation between Israeli and American UAV Divisions.

The American troops traveled to Israel in a helicopter carrying naval vessel, equipped with CH-53E helicopters, the U.S equivalent of the Israeli “Yas’ur”, MQ-21 UAV and other equipment. “One of the central goals that we aimed for, was creating a mutual language with the American Forces”, shared Lt. Ben, leader of the exercise in the “First UAV” Squadron.

One of the main scenarios that were exercised was a simulation of an invasion of 100 Marines and Operators from the IDF’s “Maglan” Special Forces Unit. “The UAV scanned the threatened area and gave the American helicopter carrying the combatants confirmation to land near the invasion area”, shared Lt. Ben. “We communicated with the ground forces using our mission station, we directed them to their destination and updated them when we suspected that an enemy force was trying to sabotage their activity”.

Israeli and American Aircraft Side by Side

Photography: Mor Tzidon

The Aspiration: An Israeli and American UAV Flying Together
As part of the training exercise, American operators sat in the “Shoval” UAV mission station and vice versa – Israeli operators observed the Americans operating from their mission stations in the ship. Throughout the exercise, the crews shared information with one another and gave each other tips based on the operational experience they’ve gained. “In comparison to the Americans that began operating the MQ-21 UAV recently, the IAF has been operating the ‘Heron 1′ for a decade, so it has participated in a great deal of operational activity. We gave the Americans advice based on our wide knowledge and it was very significant for them”, explained Lt. Ben who shared how impressed he was by the way the Americans operated in the mission station from which they operated the MQ-21: “The division of work between the Americans in the mission station differs from ours, however, the missions are similar to those that we conduct and mostly deal with aerial reconnaissance”.

Personnel from the “First UAV” Squadron are already planning the next mutual exercise. “Our goal is that in the future, we will train together and moreover, that an Israeli and American UAV will conduct missions together”, revealed Lt. Ben. “We want to create mutual exercises, learn together and strengthen our abilities. The cooperation helps us widen our range of creativity and achieve significant accomplishments”.

Israeli and American Aircraft Side by Side

Archive Photo

“Pilot Search and Rescue is one of our most ethical missions”
Over the years, the cooperation between the forces has strengthened and today, the mutual understanding between them is deeper than ever. They learn from one another, which strengthens all of the force’s operational readiness for the theatres they deal with.

The forces deal with mutual challenges, one of which is rescuing pilots that eject from their aircraft in enemy territory. In most cases, the rescue of the pilot is performed by transport helicopters designed for SAR (Search and Rescue) operations. Throughout the exercise, the Israeli and American helicopters trained for said scenarios and the comparison between them in regards to how they conduct the mission came in quickly.

Mixed pairs of “Yas’ur” (CH-53) helicopters from the IAF’s “Nocturnal Birds” and “Leaders of the Night” Squadrons and pairs of American helicopters took off for the PSAR mission together. Together, as the Israeli helicopter led the American helicopter while being covered by a Combat Helicopter, they contacted the pilot on the ground that in turn, directed them to him. A few minutes later, the rescue helicopters arrived, landed nearby and extracted him from the threatened area.

Israeli and American Aircraft Side by Side

Photography: Mor Tzidon

“The Pilot Search and Rescue mission is one of our most ethical missions. The Americans are good friends of ours so we want to provide them with the best exercise we can”, said Capt. Dan, leader of the exercise in the “Noctornal Birds” Squadron. “We simulated the mission in a mountainous and sandy area – optimal conditions for the Americans to train in, as they are not used to operating in such conditions. In the PSAR mission, we learned how they fly in formation, how they communicate and compared our similarities and differences”.

“Each one us performs the mission differently, whether in a different language or by using a different combat doctrine”, shared Maj. Rotem from the “Nocturnal Birds” Squadron. “They, for example, don’t use the rescue crane in the CH-53, which we use frequently and have an M134 Mini Gun in its place. In addition, each one of us has their own flight limitations, so we flew together according to the severest limitation”.

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