Even though it may seem that there is no room for creativity in a military organization, the IAF is often required to use its most valuable resource: exceptional people, who use their imagination and make the impossible possible

Zohar Boneh | Translation: Ohad Zeltzer Zubida & Ofri Aharon

In his novel “1948”, George Orwell wrote “In philosophy, or religion, or ethics, or politics, two and two might make five, but when one was designing a gun or an aeroplane, they had to make four”.

When pronouncing the words “creativity” or “imagination” beside the word “military”, it seems that they contradict each other. The military life is characterized by clear protocol and instruction for every part of one’s daily routine and should not leave much “wiggle space” for the soldiers and their commanders.

However, one should not judge a book by its cover. In many situations, the IAF’s soldiers, officers and NCOs are required to use their imagination and find creative solutions for the challenges they face, on the ground and in the air.

“The IAF considers itself a very innovative force and in order to stay one, it pushes its personnel to search for creative solutions for the problems they face”, shared Maj. Hila Mazor, who is responsible for creative thinking courses in the IAF School of Command and Leadership. “Even though it is very easy to enter a fixed routine of clear protocol, the IAF makes an effort to let its soldiers see beyond their instruction books”.

Mission Impossible
During the “First Lebanon” War, in which IDF forces were deployed across Lebanon, a problem arose which seemed impossible to solve. The Syrians began operating the “MiG-25” which flies at the towering height of 70,000 feet (more than 20 kilometer) and at a speed of 2.5 Mach (almost 3,000 km/h) and photographed the deployment of IDF forces in Lebanon. The problem was that the MiG’s flight abilities challenged the IAF’s interception abilities. Firstly, at the height and speed of the MiG, IAF aircraft’s operational abilities were inferior. Secondly, the time it took for the interception aircraft to take off and reach the interception height was long, so IAF aircraft just weren’t arriving on time.

It was the Anti-Aircraft Division (today the Aerial Defense Division) which brought about the unique solution. At first it seemed the mission was impossible for the “Hawk” SAM batteries. The “MiG” flew too high for the “Hawk”, according to its manufacturer’s instructions. But then SSGT. Pinni Shefter, a young NCO in the battery, proved that with a thorough understanding of the system and a little imagination, the manufacturer’s instructions could be overridden.

SSGT. Shefter suggested a change in the “Hawk” battery’s radar system and in one week, succeeded in crafting a working prototype. The modification of the system was immediately approved and after only three attempts, a “Hawk” missile succeeded to hit and intercepted the “MiG-25”.

Brig. Gen. (Res) Uri Ram, who was then the Operations Officer in the Anti-Aircraft Division, said: “A real time problem was displayed and a solution was formulated very quickly. The manufacturers were surprised. Shooting down an aircraft flying outside the missiles performance range was a global innovation. There was no such thing or anything similar to it, in the history of SAM in the world”. The modification engineered by SSGT. Shefter was later implemented on every Israeli “Hawk” batteries.

?Creativity in the IAF

An Anti-Aircraft Division “Hawk” Battery | IAF Magazine Archive

Choosing the hard way
Operation “Rooster 53” is an operation that took place during the “War of Attrition” in which a joint IAF and Paratroopers Brigade force gained control over a Soviet radar station operated by Egypt and brought it to Israel. To this day, the operation is considered one of the most daring and creative operations in the history of the IDF. Then Chief of Staff, the late Lt. Gen. Haim Bar-Lev, described the operation as “taken from a movie”.

Towards the end of 1969, the IAF discovered an Egyptian radar station that made IAF operational activity in the Suez Gulf area difficult. The radar station was camouflaged so it took time until its location was discovered. However, from the moment it was discovered, there was no doubt – the radar station had to be neutralized. The first and obvious option was to bomb the radar station from afar, a minimal risk option and a quick solution to the problem.

However, Srgt. Rami Shalev and Lt. Yechiel Haleor, two soldiers from the Aerial Photo Interpretation unit, came up with another option: instead of destroying the radar station, they could try to bring it to Israel and in turn, gain understanding of the technological secrets the Soviet radar.

The exceptional idea quickly climbed up the ranks until it received the IAF Commander, Maj. Gen. Mottie Hod’s permission and the radar station was raided and brought to Israel intact and in perfect condition.
Following the operation, the Egyptian Military took a tough hit to its morale and the Egyptian government found it difficult to get new military equipment from the USSR.

?Creativity in the IAF

A P-12 Radar | IAF Magazine Archive

Searching for a solution
Today, Technical Division personnel need to come up with solutions for day-to-day problems when often the only tool they have at their disposal is their mind. “Most of the time, when we face a malfunction, the solution is considerably easy and amounts to a simple algorithm”, shared Capt. Osher Shapira, an officer in the Material Directorate’s Technological Department, “but sometimes something extraordinary happens”.

Such a problem occurred two years ago when a large fracture was discovered on a CH-53 helicopter. No one knew where it came from, or how to deal with it. It was only a few millimeters long, but could ground the helicopter, because it was on a plank that connected the helicopter and the rotor.

The evidence was passed on from hand to hand in search for a solution, even the helicopter’s manufacturer couldn’t solve to the problem, until a number of engineers from the Technology Department, with Capt. Shapira among them, found a solution. “We proposed to put sensors on the helicopter and measure the pressure on the crack during flight”, explained Capt. Shapira, “we were able to deduce where the crack came from and we found a way to fix it”.

?Creativity in the IAF

A CH-35 Helicopter | Photography: Avihai Socher