The War of the Mind The War of the Mind Without prior notice, the aircrews of the “Hornet” squadron found themselves in a mental preparation exercise, aimed to prepare them for the emotional stress involved in fighting

Eilon Tohar | Translation: Eden Sharon

On the last Thursday morning, the aircrew of the “Hornet” woke up thinking that they are heading for a normal training. Suddenly, without prior notice, they entered a fighting mode: 24 hours of disconnection from the outside world, leaving their phones behind and sleeping on mattresses on the floor of the HAS (hardened aircraft shelters).

That is how the first-of-its-kind mental preparation exercise for combat helicopters was opened last week.
“The use of combat helicopters is growing in missions like assistance to ground forces and targeted strikes, as we’ve seen during Operation ‘Protective Edge’”, explains Lieutenant N’ from the “Flying Dragon” squadron, which was in charge of the ground part of the exercise. “We conduct similar exercises for fighter jets on a regular basis and we thought that the combat helicopters formation, which grows more and more significant, should have the same preparation. This is a new perception and I believe that these exercises will be carried out once every six months”.

A Mental, Operational challenge
The “Hornet” squadron, which operates the “Apache Longbow” helicopters, conducted the exercise in cooperation with the “Flying Dragon”.
“We wanted to present the aircrews with the dilemmas that the IAF had to face recently”, says Lieutenant N’. “We took real scenarios from Operation “Protective Edge” and recreated them in order to train the aircrews and improve their operational capabilities”.

As part of the training, the teams went out for a night flight that included several mini-missions. Targets were spread across the ground, simulating threats like terrorists or Ground-to-air missiles.
“The aircrews were constantly required to make their own judgment calls. A good example is a case when civilian population is found in the vicinity of the targets “, adds Lieutenant N’.
These scenarios are not common and they require both physical and mental effort on the part of the aircrews.

“The purpose of the exercise is to train the aircrews outside of their comfort zone”, explains Lieutenant Itay, the training officer of the “Hornet” squadron. “The teams had to deal with complex scenarios that unlike regular flights might shake their confidence. They encountered a whole different way of practicing and unfamiliar events. Apart from professionalism, this exercise required dealing with mental and perceptional stresses as well”.