How do UAVs direct fighter jets? How do the different divisions cooperate and what challenges does the mutual activity entail? We joined the “White Eagle” Squadron for a fighter direction training exercise
Besides the routine reconnaissance missions, a completely different kind of responsibility rests of the shoulders of the IAF’s UAV Operators: aerial direction. This week, the “White Eagle” Squadron, which operates the “Eitan” (Heron TP) UAV, held a mutual training exercise that deal with direction of fighter aircraft with the “Edge of the Spear” Squadron, which operates “Baz” (F-15) fighter jets. In the training exercise, which focused on the northern arena, the “Eitan” UAVs provided an aerial image of the arena and directed the fighter aircraft to their targets in real time.
The “Eitan” belongs to the HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) family of UAVs that participate in missions that require long periods of non-stop air time. Their endurance addresses the operational need for presence in a specific area and allows the IAF to maintain aerial continuity. As a multi-role aircraft, the “Eitan” is responsible for general reconnaissance, long-range target photography and designation of targets for other aircraft to attack. “In the exercise we dealt with direction of fighter aircraft to their targets”, shared Second Lt. Yehonatan, a UAV Operator. “The ‘Eitan’ flew near the target and the operator directed the WSO in the fighter jet. It is the optimal aircraft for direction missions because it is equipped with advanced systems”.
During the mutual training exercises, the UAVs direct a number of fighter jets and each formation performs a number of attacks. “The direction is performed when the fighter jet is in the air, so there is a short window to operate in”, said Second Lt. Yehonatan. “The challenge is to understand what information the WSO needs and convey it in a short time”.
After a mutual briefing with the “Edge of the Spear” Squadron personnel, Maj. (Res’) Shay and Lt. Hadar position themselves in the mission station and prepare for flight. They may have flown many times before, but nevertheless, a complex mission is ahead of them. “A flight such as this requires a high level of proficiency, you need to take many things into consideration”, emphasized Maj. (Res’) Shay. “The target could be hidden and difficult to identify. We are under time pressure and need to provide results quickly”.
The operators organize the station for flight. Their main mission is to direct the WSO to the coordinates. The atmosphere is tense; the operators scan the area meticulously. Gradually, more details are discovered, the visibility improves and it becomes easier to mark the simulated SAM (Surface-Air-Missile) battery. The target is located and the operators contact the WSO who inserts the coordinates in to the armament, launches it, navigates it to the target and announces “Alpha”. Target destroyed.