Growing and strengthening: 30 years ago, the first “Barak” jet landed in the IAF and has since participated in historic operations. Today the division is stronger than ever, but what did the jet’s first steps in the IAF look like?
Illy Pe’ery & Carmel Lahad
“It was an especially wintry February day. A storm was raging and the rain wouldn’t let up”, recalled Brig. Gen. (Res’) Avi Ya’akoby, who served as Deputy Commander of the “First Jet” Squadron when the IAF received the “Barak” (F-16C/D). The new jets landed despite the ranging storm and today the “Barak” (Hebrew for Lightning) is one of the largest divisions in the IAF and is operated by fighter squadrons from north to south.
A Soft Landing
The first “Barak” (F-16C/D) integration team led by Brig. Gen. (Res’) Gideon Eilat who then served as Head of the Fighter Training Branch, began preparing in early 1986. The “First Jet” Squadron in Ramat-David AFB was the first to receive the jets. “We held a conversion training course for ourselves in Israel and I, as the ‘Barak’ project officer, studied the aircraft’s avionics and wrote it’s system book in Hebrew”, shared Brig. Gen. (Res’) Ya’akoby.
After the course in Israel, the six pilots took off for a conversion training course in USAF “Luke” AFB. “Throughout the month, we participated in ground conversions and flight in which we learned about the aircraft”, said Brig. Gen. (Res’) Ya’akoby. “The main differences between the ‘Netz’ (F-16A/B) which the Squadron had operated until that time and the new ‘Barak’ regarded avionics and variety of capabilities, but the quality of flight was similar, a fact that made their integration easier”.
A Pioneer Squadron
A month after their return to Israel, on February 9, 1987, the first pair of “Barak” fighter jet landed in Ramat-David AFB. “A day after their arrival, we took off for the first flight”, recalled Brig. Gen. (Res’) Ya’akoby. “Eilat honored me by choosing me as his number two, it was very exciting”.
Operation “Blue and Brown” against PLFP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) targets was the first in a series of airstrikes the “First Jet” Squadron and the “First Fighter” Squadron (that was in the midst of its operational qualification process) performed. “While planning the operation we stumbled across a problem – the targets were dozens of miles away from the border, deep in Lebanon and the area was topographically complex and full of mountains and rocks”, described Brig. Gen. (Res’) Uzi Rosen, then Head of the Operations Department. “It was decided that the ground forces will arrive in the area aboard ships and will be extracted with helicopters”.
But the operation didn’t go as planned: when the combatants reached the shore and began advancing towards the target, they were discovered by the enemy. They began to exchange fire and had to be extracted. “After the helicopters successfully took off with all of the combatants, their commander counted them and realized – four combatants had been left in Lebanon”.
While the search was underway on the ground, “Barak” fighters bombed the area and by doing so allowed the helicopter to focus on searching for the combatants. “The combatants were found and extracted and the operation was officially over. The IAF’s performance was defined as no less than exemplary”, stated Brig. Gen. (Res’) Rosen. “All of the targets were later successfully attacked from the air and upon the integration of advanced armament capabilities for the “Barak” jets in the 90’s, the aircraft’s capabilities became above and beyond”.