Advanced fighter-planes, smart bombs, long-range capabilities and precise intelligence are all capabilities the IAF is known to possess. They are in use every day and may prove decisive in the next war. These capabilities are accompanied by a less-known, yet crucial capability: airborne electronic warfare. Meet the “Sky Crows”, a clandestine unit that does quite a lot—quietly
Battlefield clashes or military operations always require much more than new planes, strong engines and advanced weaponry. With the technological advancements over the years, a struggle has been taking place not just between fighter jets and surface-to-air batteries, but also in areas such as electronic warfare with the assistance of units that provide aircrafts with protective cover.
The “Sky Crows” operate in this vital field and one of their main goals is to assist IAF jets in hiding from enemy radar on their way to hit the targets.
The Electronic Warfare Division is one of the most secretive divisions in the IAF. Its purpose is to provide the force’s planes that fly in territory threatened by enemy aircrafts and or surface-to-air missiles with protective cover.
The operators of the division work to jam enemy radar systems and to protect against counter-electronic warfare attacks, which makes the Electronic Warfare Division directly influential on the outcome of the fighting and a decisive factor at the moment of truth.
Almost all military operations carried out by IAF planes nowadays are accompanied by protection provided by the division and yet, most of its activities are confidential and will remain that way for years to come.
“The IAF has two main missions: protecting the skies above Israel and obtaining aerial superiority”, said Lieutenant Colonel Ran, commander of the “Sky Crows” unit. “For the IAF’s aircrafts to be able to execute the mission during the fighting or during military operations between the wars, the division has to provide them with protection. We provide a response and back the missions so that, in fact, the unit always works for the good of the IAF and in cooperation with a certain squadron; we are never alone”.
The Electronic Warfare Division is divided between two main fields: radar warfare and enemy communications jamming. Another mission is the protection of IAF planes against enemy electronic warfare attacks.
Fighting From the Air
The purpose of the “Sky Crows” unit is airborne electronic warfare on aerial platforms in the force. Because it is an airborne unit, the systems it operates are not tied down to a particular spot; it has a “long arm” and with it, the ability to protect IAF aircrafts even when they operate far beyond the borders of Israel.
“The unit is comprised of a number of devices, be they air-based or ground-based, which are synchronized and adjusted to provide the broadest range of protection”, explains Lieutenant Colonel Ran. “Every device has its advantages and they complete each other in a way that allows for the execution of the mission”.
A Step Ahead
The battlefield with which the IAF has to contend has changed over the years: the enemy has become more sophisticated and the technology more innovative. As such, the Electronic Warfare Division-and the unit in particular-have to adapt to the changes in threats and the strengthening of the enemy.
“Naturally, the unit and the division undergo changes all the time and adapt to the operational needs of the IAF”, adds Lieutenant Colonel Ran. “From a situation of army vs. army and the threat was clear and known, we have moved on to the new battlefield where the enemy acquires new technology and capabilities all the time. That is the exact technological challenge we have to deal with”.
During Operation “Pillar of Defense” the unit operated near the Gaza Strip, one of the most complex battlefields with which the IAF deals.
“The unit operated on continuous shifts, so that a team could be in the air at any time”, recalls Lieutenant Colonel Ran. “We spent long hours above the Gaza Strip in missions that I cannot elaborate on”. To this day, these missions may not be published.
“It is here that the flexibility and creativity of the soldiers in the unit shine. We give all we can, for the sake of supporting the IAF’s missions we are directed to. In this way, the teams worked round the clock”.
“We need to be ready”
During the Second Lebanon War, the “Sky Crows” also took advantage of the resources at their disposal in order to reach the enemy to carry out missions that are not always conventional for the unit.
When it comes to a battlefield that changes on a daily basis, the soldiers of the unit not only have to keep up with the rapid pace, they also have to advance one step ahead of the enemy.
“We need to be ready to respond to any situation and to be up-to-date on the changing fighting doctrines and concepts of the force”, stresses Lieutenant Colonel Ran. “What was relevant during the War of Attrition of 1968 was not relevant during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and not relevant these days”.
Today, it is not enough anymore to confuse the enemy’s systems, as it also possesses electronic warfare capabilities and a protective cover of its own. Between the different systems, the unit has to keep up with the pace of technological developments, preserve its flexibility and alertness so that it will not be surprised during the next round of fighting.
“It’s no secret that we want to fight each other through electronic warfare”, Lieutenant Colonel Ran clarifies. “So, the key is building immunity against the electronic warfare capabilities of the enemy. This is a brain war, we have to be one step ahead of the enemy and we have to be relevant and learn and intimately understand the capabilities of the other side. We need to be active in everything have to do with developing the division”.