The Israeli M-346 trainee pilots and WSOs had a chance to simulate missions from Israel’s wars to connect with their heritage at the end of their Operational Training Course.
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) recently disclosed an interesting fact about their latest Operational Training Course on the Leonardo M-346 of the 102nd “Flying Tiger” Squadron at Hatzerim Airbase. The pilots who were about to graduate took part in an exercise that reenacted missions from the Six-Day War between Israel and Jordan, Syria, and Egypt in 1967.
The 102nd Squadron is responsible for the advanced training of the IAF’s fighter pilots and Weapon Systems Officers on the M-346 or “Lavi”, as it is called locally. During the Operational Training Course (OTC) the aircrews replicate in the simulator missions and battles from the past Israel’s wars. The reason for that is simple, as explained by Maj. G, Commander of the OTC: “As an aircrew member, it is important to know our history. It’s a way to connect with our heritage in a practical way. It teaches us to handle stressful and challenging situations, which is something that we focus on often”.
The Israeli Air Force uses these courses as an intermediate stage between the completion of the aircrews’ basic flight training and their integration in the operational squadrons, much like the Lead-In Fighter Training (LIFT) courses done by many other air forces.
The press release further detailed the events of the exercise. During the first day the aircrews went through a “ground school” phase where they learned the history about Israel’s wars and connected it to the flights they would later simulate, and specifically the Six-Day War and its opening airstrikes of the Operation Focus, considered one of the most successful and significant wars in the country’s history. The officers also had a chance to meet aircrews that actually fought during the conflict that they were about to reenact.
The next phase begun with the commander giving mission orders and aircrews starting to plan the operation, which would also be the first complete air operation of the new graduates, combining everything they learned in a single mission. “We received the command and planned every aspect – fuel prep, adapting doctrine to the task, and mapping out possible scenarios. We created a briefing and prepared to destroy a base in the morning”, said one of the officers.
Once the planning was completed, the trainees went on to fly the mission in the M-346’s Full Mission Simulators, while the instructors continued to add obstacles and challenges to test their training. Maj. G. compared the differences between today’s encrypted communications between pilots and other assets and the radio silence that had to be preserved in 1967: “In this day and age, air controllers provide a wide picture and can speak freely over the controls. That wasn’t always the case, however. In the past, pilots would often have to identify targets alone and make decisions in radio silence to prevent leaking information”.
One of the missions simulated a two-ship flight departing for an airstrike on an enemy airfield, when suddenly the leader was shot down. The wingman had then to continue the mission alone, dealing with dogfights against enemy fighters trying to intercept him and surface-to-air missiles to get the job done and reach the mission’s objective, keeping a “balance between performing the mission and surviving”.
Keeping in line with real operations, the mission was followed by an extensive debriefing, with the aircrews discussing their flight performance while facing unplanned scenarios introduced by the instructors and sharing their individual conclusions with the other trainees.
As mentioned in the press release, some may argue about the value of a similar exercise reenacting old wars and their outdated scenarios that are no longer relevant today. The goal is to have the trainees immedesimate themselves with pilots involved in real operations against real targets, contributing to a larger operation. Maj. G. explained: “It is true that aircrew members won’t perform attack missions with these weapons and on these runways. We benefit from this training in other ways – sensing the operational importance of the mission at hand and feeling as if the fate of Israel lays on our shoulders”.