The first of April, a day known for pranks and jokes, is being held today throughout the world. While for civilians the day is marked mainly with surprises, jokes, and light natured attitude, the IAF took it a bit more seriously. Surprise in battle is part and parcel of every engagement, and the ability to deal effectively with the unexpected can make all the difference.
As part of a training program to train pilots to deal with surprises, pilots found themselves taking part in a series of challenges that included real-time exercises that tested not only their operational abilities but also their mental fortitude and ability to overcome whatever they face. One of these exercises was carried out by the “Magic Touch” Apache helicopter Squadron of the Ramon Air Base.
“The security situation in the region has been very fluid in the past few years. We have seen exactly how dynamic the situation is by how the activities on our borders have played out, as well as how operations are carried out in the field, as in operation ‘Protective Edge'”, explained Captain S, deputy squadron commander. “As air crew members, we take part in a great many complex and surprising situations. In the last two years, we came to realize that we have been encountering a significant number of seemingly spontaneous events, which are characterized by numerous new elements, elements which are reflective of the shifting stage in the Middle East. Our reality means that we have to be ready to overcome this constant ambiguity”.
A Week of Uncertainty
Over the course of the week the members of the “Magic Touch” Squadron practiced a wide range of intricate, threat filled, and complex scenarios, none of which they were told about before take-off. “The crews received a standard pre-flight briefing, and were prepared in very general terms about the missions they would be carrying out. Only once they were in the air did they understand what they were up against “said Captain S. “This way, we were able to observe the way that the formation leader processed the situation, how they identified the mission goal, how they carried out the operation, as well as how they dealt with the unfamiliar situation. These practices are what will teach them the necessary skills so that they can succeed when they encounter surprises in real-life scenarios. This is what sharpens their skills and their mental acumen so that they can comprehend the situation in front of them”.
Real Time Mental Stress
The challenges of dealing with the unexpected are two-fold: On the one hand, there is the operational challenge, as the way to accomplish the mission is no longer possible by the pre-planned strategy. As events unfold, the facts on the ground change and pilots must be able to adapt to the changing situation. On the other hand, there is the incredible mental stress that is added, as pilots find themselves in new and completely unexpected situations.
“People by nature don’t like having changes forced on them or finding themselves in unexpected scenarios” said Captain S. “When you are in the air and you realize that the information you received pre-flight doesn’t really match with what you are seeing, you need to construct a new plan in the air, as it happens. This is not something you can prepare for when you are still on the ground”.
From the First “Flight Check” until Today
Captain S. emphasized the unique ability of combat helicopter squadrons to deal with surprises. “Combat helicopters are incredibly flexible and are often the first method of response to many situations. Helicopter pilots are taught from day one of flight school to be ready for the unforeseen. It is a reality that all air crew members need to be ready for and able to deal with. For helicopter pilots however, the focus on this skill is exponentially greater, from the first ‘check’ and throughout their service, as it us understood that these pilots will likely find themselves in scenarios they never could have seen coming”.