F-15I and F-16I squadrons, the most advanced planes in the combat formation, took off for a special exercise in which day was replaced with night. Sponsored by darkness, they took off on attack missions, low-altitude flights and even bringing down UAVs
Lilach Gonen | Photography: Lior Kestner | Translation: Karen Tocatly
“Morning Announcements”, says the large bulletin board in the “Knights of the Orange Tail” squadron’s briefing room. But in reality, this morning begins at three in the afternoon. This is what the last week has looked like in the combat squadron–the day begins shortly before sunset and ends only in the late hours of the night. “This is opposite week, where we fly at night and sleep during the day”, explains Major Gil, Deputy Commander of the squadron. “We practice various outlines and attack missions under threats of missile batteries, and everything happens in the dark”.
The nighttime workshop included the squadrons of the F-16I and F-15I formations. “These are the planes that are better suited for nighttime flying”, says First Lieutenant Meir, leader of the exercise and an air crew member of the “Knights of the Orange Tail” squadron. “Our capabilities in night flights are very different from other formations’, because the difference for us between flying in daylight and flying in the dark in less immense”.
“Simple Missions Become Complicated”
One of the challenges that the “Opposite Week” exercise emphasizes is navigation in low altitudes. “Flying at those kinds of altitudes at night is not to be taken lightly”, says First Lieutenant Meir. “It’s a capability that not many air forces around the world have. Cloaked by darkness, things look different, and simple missions suddenly become complex”.
In an ever-changing battlefield, the IAF has to be prepared for a wide variety of threats, at any time it is needed. Thus, one of the central missions that the squadrons practiced in the moonlight surfaced only in the past few years: killing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. “At the end of the day, knocking down a UAV in the day and in the night is pretty similar. The main difference is that it is more difficult to keep it within eye-site”, says Major Gil. “That said, lately this is a training session that squadrons are carrying out more and more often”.