Last week, the entirety of the IAF's Helicopter Division participated in a combined exercise in northern Israel. The exercise, held once every several months, allows the various squadrons to learn from each other, maintain their preparedness, and implement new modes of operation. "Mutual exercises are the best way for us to learn," said Lt. L., exercise leader from the 124th ("Rolling Sword") Squadron, which operates the "Yanshuf" (Black Hawk) helicopter. "Each squadron has a different set of missions; together, as a division, they're able to help each other."
Israel's northern theater features a mountainous landscape similar to the enemy territory north of the border. "Each opportunity the crews have to simulate realistic scenarios in the northern theater helps us improve and makes us more prepared for real-time situations, especially when the conditions aren't ideal for helicopter flight," explained Lt. L. "It's necessary to train according to the conditions of each specific theatre, seeing as each one has different characteristics, different designated missions, and different flight conditions."
"If a war breaks out in the north and ground forces begin taking over targets in the area, attack helicopters are a key component in their activity," said Lt. Y., exercise leader from the 190th ("Magic Touch") Squadron. "If we don't study the theatre we operate in, we can't perform our duty in the best way possible."
The 190th ("Magic Touch") Squadron, which operates the "Peten" (Apache) attack helicopter, also took part in the exercise, focusing on two primary missions. "One mission was striking targets under SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) threat," said Lt. Y. "Performing a mission under such threat poses a mental challenge – how do I successfully extract a downed pilot or attack a target when under missile threat? We have to analyze the specific threats at hand in real time, while also working towards the successful performance of our mission."
"Flights in missile-laden areas require that the aircrew members stay concentrated and precise," continued Lt. Y. "One of the main challenges in flight is figuring out the correct flight altitude. On the one hand, you want to utilize the mountainous terrain as an advantage, but on the other hand, you have to beware from obstacles at low altitudes such as electrical wires."
The second mission was DPSAR (Downed Pilot Search-and-Rescue). "The attack helicopter's role in DPSAR missions is to help locate the downed pilots and eliminate the surrounding threats – this is performed alongside the force's transport helicopters, responsible for extracting the downed pilots," elaborated Lt. Y. "These operations are challenging and require that we be efficient and well-equipped to handle large amounts of pressure."
The exercise also emphasized improving combat doctrines. "When the crews return from their missions in the dead of night, we sit in the debrief room and go through everything – what worked well and what didn't, how we can change or improve the current combat doctrines, and how we can progress using the tools currently at our disposal," concluded Lt. L.
First publication: May Peleg, Shira Pansky, and Noa Rokni / IAF website