New IAF Training Unit to Reach Skies Without Leaving Ground

The Israel Air Force is set to launch a new squadron to conduct complex training missions without a single airman or jet leaving the ground. The new unit will run all of the IAF's flight simulators, and in two years will inaugurate a tactical simulator allowing eight fighter pilots - and two others posing as enemy pilots - to run training drills simultaneously.

The IAF has operated flight simulators for over 30 years, mostly to train aircraft squadrons on procedures to be taken in the event of emergency or inclement weather. Once every few months, each flight squadron must undergo simulated emergency-training drills to meet military safety regulations. A pilot who fails any such drill cannot continue serving in regular duty until retaking and passing the exam.

Simulators were once spread among a series of air force bases, but in recent years efforts have been made to concentrate all simulation devices at Hatzor Airbase near Ashdod.

Several weeks ago the Israel Defense Forces Planning Directorate approved the new unit, which will be become operational later this year and be specifically tasked with running training drills.

The squadron is slated to begin operating a new tactical simulator designed by electronic-systems manufacturer Elbit in two years.

The simulator will consist of eight compartments - exact reproductions of an F-16 cockpit - allowing pilots to train in formation. It will also have two compartments for personnel posing as enemy pilots, and will replicate anti-aircraft fire for airmen to practice evasive tactics.

The training squadron will function like any other instruction unit, instructing flight squadrons in a series of drills. The decision to launch the new unit was inspired in part by the success of Squadron 115, which operates F-16 fighter jets and Cobra attack helicopters while posing as enemy aircraft during in-flight drills.

The air force has long tried to make both air and ground drills more realistic. Since the 1982 Lebanon war, the IAF has not fought against an enemy air force but only against more diffuse militant organizations. Today's IAF has virtually no pilots with combat experience against enemy aircraft.