Mutual missions, mission swapping missions in the air and real time support – the IAF’s UAV and surveillance squadrons trained for all of these and more in a mutual training exercise
Hadas Levav & Eitam Almadon
The UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and Surveillance Division is one of the busiest in the IAF: its aircraft search for missing persons and perform intelligence, force direction and attack documentation missions around the clock. Differently to other divisions, it is composed of both manned and unmanned squadrons that perform parallel and mutual missions. Last week, a unique training day was held for the division’s squadrons in order to strengthen the cooperation between them and improve their ability to conduct their various missions together.
Manned and Unmanned
Throughout the training exercise, aircrew members from the “First” Squadron, who operate “Tzofit” (Beechcraft King-Air B200) aircraft, met with UAV Operators from Palmahim and Tel-Nof AFB and together, they trained for mutual missions in extreme conditions. They utilized each other’s relative advantages in order to deal with the challenges they faced. For example, a “Tzofit” can fly at high speeds and it manned with air observers responsible for identifying targets. While the UAV Division’s advantages are realized in different fields as the “Eitan” (Heron TP) Hermes 450 and “Shoval” (Heron 1) UAVs can all fly for extended durations of time, while their operators can pilot them in shifts and maintain maximal alertness.
“We understood that we had to expand the cooperation between the manned and unmanned squadron”, said Second Lt. Yonatan, the exercise leader from the “White Eagle” Squadron. “Each squadron and each aircraft have their relative advantages. Our goal is to combine these capabilities in the best and most efficient way”.
“While we do operate aircraft with relatively similar capabilities, we operate them from different stations and don’t always see the same picture, so its important to create a common language”, shared Lt. Y, the exercise leader from a UAV Squadron which operates the Hermes 450 and Hermes 900 UAVs. “We train together in order to bridge gaps such as this”.
New Training Method
This is the second Surveillance & UAV Division training exercise, held as part of a pilot designed to test a new training method that deals with the unique challenges the squadrons face. “In the past, we trained as a division only in weeklong exercises. Because our division deals with operational limitations and we can’t plan long exercises because of real-time operational activity, we have begun adding single training days for the entire division, in addition to workshops”, said Second Lt. Yonatan. Personnel from the “White Eagle” Squadron, who led the training day for the first time, shared that this time, the exercise’s scenarios focused on the Gaza strip theatre. “We chose to focus on the Gaza theatre as it is considered very relevant to us at this time. As a result, we positioned ground elements relevant to the theatre, such as missile launchers and ground cells”.
The various squadrons performed mutual missions, swapped missions in the air and were called to assist each other when required. “We rehearsed surprised events such as penetration of our territory or rocket launches and operation in sets, meaning a group of different aircraft building an aerial image, understanding and incriminating targets. In the combined sets, each aircraft received a specific role”.