“It’s important that the navigators understand the considerations, the basics of flying, and how it looks” In the American army, they are called Weapons Division officers, but the Israeli Air Force prefers to stick with tradition and call them “navigators”. Israeli combat navigators have long since dispensed with paper maps, and now they act as an inseparable part of the execution of aerial missions, analyze situations, and make decisions. Meet the combat navigators
They no longer have maps, and they do not use compasses. Their importance in missions with fighter jets is critical, but they do not fly planes. There are many myths surroundingthe role of combat navigators. Which of these myths are true, and what actually happens in the seat behind the cockpit?
In the beginning, the main job of the navigator was, as the name suggests, to navigate, and to direct the plane to its target. The original pilot pin of the combat navigators was a compass with wings. The first two-seated plane to join the IAF was the “Phantom”, and from then on, the role of the combat navigator started to morph into what it is today: a weapon systems operator. “Once upon a time, navigators were actually navigators”, explains Major Omri, commander of the advanced combat navigation track at the flight school. “The name is historical…even though their job is a far cry from navigation”.
“No one takes the pilot course to become a navigator”
The importance of the navigators in operational missions has increased with the development of technology. From operating two-way radios and radar systems to operating complex weapons, the list of responsibilities only grows. “With the introduction of munitions that are capable of directing themselves, supposedly the world of navigation was supposed to disappear entirely”, said Major Omri. “But, today, with the introduction of the F-16I and the F-15I, the amount of information that the cockpit receives requires an aircrew member who knows how to analyze it and respond in a short period time, and that is the navigator.”
“No one takes the pilot course to become a navigator”, explains Major Omri, who also finished the pilot course at a navigator. “Everyone dreams of being a pilot. But this dream stems from a lack of understanding of combat flights. It isn’t until you understand this demanding world in its entirety, that you understand why [being a navigator] is so significant and rewarding.”
Thinking One Step Ahead of the Pilot
Both pilots and navigators learn the information that combat aircrew members have to know in order to carry out their missions. Because the navigators do not fly, in the first stages of their training, they are taught the theories in class and, at times, through flights alongside a pilot instructor. “It’s important that the navigators understand the considerations, the basics of flying, and how it looks”, stresses Major Omri. “The operational mission always belongs to the team, and not just to one person. As such, basic understanding of the job of the pilot is critical even for a navigator. He has to know how to think one step ahead of the pilot, to coordinate himself with the pilot, and to know how he operates and how to respond.”