The “Blue VS. Blue” training method is making a comeback in the IAF after a long period of absence from its training program. A critical element in the success of such exercises are the IAF’s ATCs (Air Traffic Controllers) who give the aircrews the big picture
Tal Giladi & Illy Peeri
Last week, a two-sided training exercise, also known as “Blue VS. Blue”, set the “Scorpion” Squadron that operates the “Barak” (F-16C/D) the “Knights of the Orange Tail” Squadron that operates the “Sufa” (F-16I) and the “Hammers” Squadron that operates the “Ra’am” (F-15I) one against the other. Between them all stood the ATCs, whose perspective of the aerial image and ability to give the aircrews the bigger picture can decide the results of the campaign.
A Birdseye View
For every significant training exercise, a number of Air Traffic Controllers leave their ATC Units and join the training squadrons in the field. Capt. Yuval, a Deputy Department Commander in the Southern ATC Unit, explained that the Air Traffic Controllers want to be involved in the sortie planning process, know the targets and understand the strategy the formation leader designs. “As an Air Traffic Controller, I see the entire arena and I relay the data to the pilots accordingly. It’s a battle based on control of ranges – if you identify the missile launched at you enough time in advance, you will be able to defend yourself from it”.
“When we plan together, I know which target the pilots wants to attack and when he enters every area and can monitor his activity accordingly”, he shared. “Two-sided training exercises that the ATC units help plan, will necessarily be better, it all depends on the level of cooperation”.
In the Enemy’s Head
The quality and advantages of the “Blue VS. Blue” training method outweigh its dangers and the difficulties that arise when debriefing. For these reasons it was returned to the IAF’s training program after years of being neglected. The main cause behind the IAF’s return to the two-sided training method was the need to develop mental flexibility and creativity among IAF aircrew members, explained Brig. Gen. Nir Barkan, Head of the IAF’s Air Division. “The training method sets two equal forces on against the other, each one brings everything it has to the arena and everyone wants to win. The level of surprise, tension and uncertainty are very high”.
In turn, IAF aircrew members regard “Blue VS. Blue” training as an interesting competition that pushes them to their limits. “While briefing, we constantly tried to enter our competitors’ minds”, shared Lt. Aviad from the “Scorpion” Squadron. “We named one of our men, who is also a ‘Sufa’ pilot’, a ‘Red’ member who was responsible for reflecting the advantages and disadvantages of the aircraft we were fighting. We then built our tactics based on mapping their weaknesses in relation to our abilities”.
The large number of aircraft, intense scenarios and the need for real-time debriefing are the elements that make two-sided exercises so complex. Upon reinstating the training method, the IAF had to develop efficient debriefing systems in order to make the outcome of the exercise clear. “When launching an Air-Air missiles in a training exercise, it is difficult to determine if the target was shot down or not, so a person is put in charge of documenting the launch time and distance between the aircraft and calculate the result. These are things that need to be confirmed in real-time, while the battle is being fought and not wait for debriefing on the ground”, said Capt. Yuval. “In two-sided training exercises, the importance of the outcome rises, as opposed to other exercises in which the ‘Red’ side doesn’t aim for victory”.