The Israel Air Force is to begin deploying an aerial firefighting squadron within two months, as part of the response to December's devastating Carmel forest fire. At first the IAF will lease civilian aircraft for the unit. A cabinet resolution provides for the unit to be fully under the IAF's authority within two years.
Following the Carmel fire, IAF and Defense Ministry officials drew up a response plan for forest fires in a series of meetings.
Last week Chim-Nir Flight Services and Elbit Systems jointly won a Defense Ministry tender bid in connection to the planned firefighting squadron. The plan is for the companies to operate planes within two months, under what is essentially an out-sourcing arrangement with the IAF. Under a similar sort of arrangement, the IAF operates some training planes at the Hatzerim flight school. The IAF will operate an operations room to coordinate activities with various bodies that deal with firefighting (firefighters, the Israel Police, and the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command ). When needed, this operations room will call in aircraft from Chim-Nir and Elbit Systems and dispatch them to extinguish fires. The planes will be stationed permanently at a number of civil airstrips around the country, not at IAF bases. Under the plan, the firefighting squadron will have between seven and 10 to ten U.S. manufactured Air Tractor AT-802 aircraft.
Chim-Bir and Elbit are trying to locate and purchase the aircraft in various countries. At first they will be flown by civilian pilots, since IAF pilots lack firefighting training. The IAF plans to train its own pilots for this purpose.
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