Female Soldiers to Play the Enemy in Israeli Army War Games

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Women in the Israeli army.
Women in the Israeli army.Credit: Ilan Assayag

For the first time, the Israeli army is establishing a Red Unit as part of the ground forces. The unit will operate in a similar manner as the Red Squadron in the air force – as an expanded crew that simulates enemy forces in military exercises. The unit will be headed by a lieutenant colonel and be comprised of female soldiers overseen by both male and female commanders.

Until now, the army has not made systematic use of a permanent team to portray the enemy in exercises by ground forces. For the most part, the army had used female soldiers who serve as Hummer drivers, or makeshift teams of fighters from other units that were attached to the unit going through the exercise.

This will be the first time the army will be using a detailed and organized system to simulate the enemy, as the air force has been doing for many years with the Red Squadron. To establish the unit, which is also known as the Red Sayeret, preparatory work was done with the air force, and the experience of U.S. Army, which established a similar brigade 15 years ago, was also studied.

The army has already begun to staff the unit, which will be under the command of Brig. Gen. Nadav Lotan, commander of the Ground Training Center at the Tze’elim base. At the initial stage, 200 female soldiers will serve in the unit. They soldiers are not combat soldiers, but will spend most of the time in the field and undergo basic training and supplemental training at the basic level for combat troops. The unit will be commanded by an officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel who serves as a department head at the base.

The command team of the Red Unit will be composed of male and female officers, a majority of them coming from field intelligence and border defense, in which there are mixed-gender battalions. The first recruitment for the unit is currently underway. By November 2020, it is slated to be operational – i.e., it will be able to be activated regularly in training and exercises.

The formation of the Red Unit is part of a series of moves being taken on orders from Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and Commander of the Ground Forces Maj. Gen. Yaacov Barak with the aim of upgrading the training of IDF ground units. At the same time, the army is expanding its use of combat simulators that use complex technology and present scenarios of “simulated reality.” One way the simulators are being used is to train and test medical teams from the different units on treating and evacuating wounded personnel in an urban warfare situation.

The IDF is also currently completing the construction at Tze’elim of an additional large urban warfare training facility to simulate combat scenarios in a densely populated urban area such as in Gaza or Lebanon. This will join the two existing urban warfare training facilities already at Tze’elim as well as several other similar facilities at other training bases around the country, some of which have also been significantly expanded and upgraded.

The construction of the new facility was based on lessons drawn from combat during the Second Lebanon War and the recent military operations in Gaza. The facility will contain an elaborate system of tunnels to enable troops to practice dealing with underground threats. This year, the IDF will expand the battalion examinations to all of the regular army battalions, to gauge their readiness for the army’s plans in the event of a war on the northern front.

Viewers of Israeli television would find the urban warfare training center at Tze’elim, including the tunnels, somewhat familiar. Part of the current season of “Fauda” was shot here, with the army’s permission. Aside from collecting a large sum for allowing the filming to take place on the premises, the Defense Ministry received a bonus left behind by the TV crews: The set design of the rooms used to film scenes set in Palestinian villages was left as is, and is now being used by the military units who are training there.

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