The IDF (Zahal) is prepared for every threat, be it on the ground, at sea, or in the air. But with threats from several enemies, how exactly does the IDF (Zahal) prepare for the danger posed by enemies? In order to be ready for attacks, one unique squadron prepares the whole Air Force by simulating dog fights and emulating enemy forces and tactics – creating scenarios as close as possible to what pilots may face in war.
One by one, and from every direction, combat aircrafts take off in a dizzying rush. At first, it may be possible to follow their actions, but they disappear from sight in seconds, dashing towards the designated aerial training zone. Up in the sky, dozens of airplanes fight head-to-head.
Israel Air Force pilots are used to practicing day or night, and in every part of the country. In the IAF, one squadron specializes in simulating the enemy. The Flying Dragon, also known as the Red Squadron, is a practice squadron whose objective is to simulate enemy aircrafts for the purpose of training other IAF fighter squadrons and preparing them for war.
The squadron effectively serves as the operational branch of the IAF’s Advanced Training Center in southern Israel’s Ovda airbase. Established in its current form five years ago, this training squadron specializes in enemy simulations, both in the air and on the ground. They expertly prepare IAF pilots, as well as pilots from around the world, for real-life aerial combat scenarios through head-to-head drills.
Capt. Omer is a 25-year-old pilot in the IAF’s Flying Dragon. He spends most of his time in the IAF’s F-16 fighter squadron, the Negev Squadron, while often training with the Flying Dragon.
Capt. Omer discussed the opportunities that this squadron provides in order to reach ultimate preparation for possible attacks. “The quality of the Flying Dragon is that we have many capabilities: the best aircraft, the best pilots, the best technology for simulations and a large area for exercises (southern Israel),” Capt. Omer explained. “Our job is to bring the exercise to an unprecedented difficulty level for the other squadrons.”
The Flying Dragon is unique in that it is able to create specific, tactical plans in order to deal with obstacles provided by the enemy. “To simulate the enemy in different operational situations, we hold exercises – each one with a different plausible enemy-attack scenario, where 2-3 squadrons participate. Our mission is to stage an attack as close to an enemy attack as possible, with the missions of the other participating squadrons to take down our planes [the enemy planes] before they can attack.”
While most of the IAF’s combat squadrons are busy with their operational duties, with little time to focus on simulating enemy attacks, Capt. Omer explained that these simulation exercises are critical to the IAF’s ultimate preparedness. “These workshops allow for all squadrons to be on the same page, as they gain more knowledge on the enemy itself and what a possible attack would look like, depending on the enemy.”
Recognizing that the air force was lacking something crucial in its training, the decision was made to allocate planes and pilots for enemy simulation. “During these exercises, we try to take down the aircraft of the participating squadrons using enemy tactics. If they have been ‘downed’ by us [the enemy], we lower their scores and they are requested to return to their base. The squadron that comes in first place gets a trophy,” Capt. Omer said.
How exactly is the squadron able to stage enemy aircrafts and mimic their tactics for attack? “We work diligently with the IAF Intelligence Formation and, along with our experience, we work to understand precisely how enemy air forces, and their aircraft, work. We then simulate these different threats and that is how we stage an enemy attack.”
While the Flying Dragon is not an operational squadron, all its pilots have emergency postings and its aircraft are equipped to serve as combat aircraft in the event of war.
“We always pick exercises that are operationally relevant,” Capt. Omer said. “The squadron is very advanced and holds exercises that are considered very difficult, even for IAF standards.”
The IAF’s development of the Flying Dragon Squadron has come to the attention of air forces around the world, and has even led to several international exercises being held in Israel.
“In the past few years, we have become a central part of global air force exercises being held in Israel. We have been involved in exercises with other nations’ air forces that come to Israel, such as the U.S. Air Force, the Italian Air Force, and the Polish Air Force.”
In the eight years since its establishment, the Flying Dragon Squadron has come to be regarded as among the best in the IAF. “We are known to hold quality exercises,” Capt. Omer said. “Many IAF squadrons wish to practice with us to be as prepared as possible for war.”