After building a unique course for fighter jets WSOs (Weapons System Operators) that is held upon completing flight school and before joining operational squadrons, now, unique training exercises are being developed for the WSOs. In these exercises, the WSOs face scenarios relevant to the modern battlefield
Throughout an entire exercise held in the “Lavi” (M-346) simulator in Hatzerim AFB, the WSOs managed the missions, divided the tasks between different jets in the formation and decide how and with which munitions to attack. “We simulated an operational attack”, said Lt. Shlomi, a WSO in training in the “Flying Tiger” that led the exercise. “We received some of the targets on the ground and some when we already in the air, when we enter the station in the simulator without knowing what we will meet”.
“The pilot and WSO have a common goal – attacking a target, but sometimes we want to create separate work spaces, meaning a temporary separation between the front and back in which each one of us is busy with our mission. The pilot is busy maintaining speed and height and talking to ATC and we, the WSOs, focus on the task at hand”, explained Lt. Shlomi. “Practically, I could lower the volume on the radio, distance myself from whatever he is doing and just focus on the targets. Later we regroup and work together”. Mutual work is rehearsed with pilots in Operational Training Course and Advanced Operational Training Course.
“This is what we are here for”
Upon the arrival of the “Lavi” jet in the IAF, a new concept was developed according to which fighter WSOs will also undergo a training period in the IAF’s fighter training squadron. “The WSOs arrive at the squadron for a six month period in which they review the basics of air-air and air-ground combat while emphasizing teamwork and the roles of the WSO in basic missions. This period prepares them well for the real operational activity in the squadron”.
The operational training cadets are grateful for the change. “It means 90 more training sorties. Beyond the professional knowledge that they develop, we develop a higher mental preparedness that will help us avoid surprises when arriving at the squadrons. This is a six month period in which we deal with operational materials but continue flying on the ‘Lavi’ that we flew on in the advanced stage of flight school”, said Lt. Shlomi. “This allows us to focus on the professional material instead of learning how to operate a new jet. It is great fun to finally train for realistic missions and scenarios. I feel that we are finally doing the real stuff, this is what we are here for”.
Many words have been written about changes in the modern battlefield which obligates the aircrews to stay sharp and refresh routine combat doctrines. Cooperation in the cockpit, operation of a number of technological systems simultaneously and the ability to plan a mission in the air, are some of the obligations a modern WSO faces.
“In operational training you operate like a WSO in 2016”, explained Lt. Shlomi. “You fly with advanced munitions just like the operational jets and under virtual SAM threats. You learn and understand the role of the WSO”.
In less than two months, the cadets of the first operational training course will join their operational squadrons and use everything they learned while sitting in the IAF’s “Ra’am” (F-15I) “Sufa” (F-16I) and “Barak” (F-16C/D) jets on their way to their first operational sortie. And we will be wishing them luck.