This week, the IAF’s squadrons trained for one of the force’s most complex and important missions: searching for and extracting downed pilots from enemy territory. “We hope that we won’t ever have to deal with this type of mission, but if were to be deployed, it is important that we be ready”
Zohar Boneh | Translation: Ofri Aharon
A SAM (Surface-Air-Missile) hit the left wing of a fighter jet that was at the end of an operational sortie in enemy territory. The pilot, who knew that his aircraft was bound to crash had to eject and found himself parachuting towards enemy territory, alone, with little equipment, most likely injured and confident that hostile forces were looking for him.
The mission that stands before the IAF in this scenario is Pilot Search and Rescue. The same mission that was exercised this week in a comprehensive, force-wide training exercise: “We hope that we won’t ever have to deal with this type of mission”, stated Lt. Col. Tomer, Commander of the “Valley” Squadron that operates the “Barak” (F-16C/D) and that led the workshop. “Due to the complexity of this mission, the day that we will be called to it, we want to be prepared”.
All on the same path
The alert of the event was sent directly to the squadron’s operations room and the control stations. Within minutes, the ready alert F-16C/D jets took off and embarked on their mission – to find their downed friend. Although it is practically impossible to see a lone person in the field from a fighter jet, fast and high, combat aircraft are those to be sent to the mission first. Their job is to try to contact the pilot first and protect the area in which he ejected.
UAVs and light transport aircraft, that perform recon, photography and intelligence missions join the operation and lead the search mission. “After the downed pilot is found, he begins directing the rescue and attack forces towards his area”, shared Capt. Shaked, Deputy Commander of the “White Eagle” Squadron, that operates the “Eitan” (Heron TP( UAV.
The peak of the rescue mission begins when the “Yas’ur” (CH-53) helicopters arrive at the area with the 669 SAR Unit operators. “We will search the area for threats such as hostile forces that operate MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) in the area, someone that may try to kidnap the pilot and other ground threats”, added Capt. Shaked.
“The ‘Yas’ur’ performs the final stage of the mission, the extraction”, shared Lt. Eran, from the “Leaders of the Night” Squadron that led the workshop in the “Yas’ur” Division. “The training exercise gave us an opportunity to train for the scenario as realistically as possible. We focused on practicing communication between the different elements in order to reach the downed pilot as quickly as possible”.
This year, the “Valley” Squadron decided to add another layer to the exercise: those who simulated the ejected pilot in the field were air-crew members from the squadron. “The combat division’s personnel are those who will have to eject and those we scattered in the field”, shared Lt. Na’ama, a WSO (Weapon Systems Operator) from the “Valley” Squadron. “They received the equipment that they would have on them if they were to eject and simulated a real scenario, searched for a place to hide, tried to direct the forces to them and avoided enemies that were looking for them”.
“There are a lot of things that could concern a downed pilot”, shared Lt. Col. Gil, Commander of the Cooperation Training Center and a WSO from the “Valley” Squadron that simulated a downed aircrew member. “He thinks of his home and family, about surviving. This is a very difficult state of mind, but it’s important to look around. To stay clear of populated areas, to run in the most difficult areas to run in and hide. You only leave your hiding place once and that’s when you already see the helicopter that’s coming to save you”.
“See The Bigger Picture”
Since the pilot search and rescue mission is based on cooperation between the different aircraft, this year, the “Valley” Squadron decided to assemble the forces and debrief together. “During the sortie, each aircraft is focused on its own mission”, shared Lt. Na’ama. “The mutual debriefing helps us see the bigger picture and understand together how we can strengthen and improve the cooperation”.