What’s more important: intercepting IAF pilots or letting them intercept you? This is one of many dilemmas the “Red” pilots of the “Flying Dragon” Squadron from Ouvda AFB face. They explain how to make an exercise realistic as possible, how to decide whether to shoot down or not and mostly how to prepare the IAF’s squadrons for the next war

Eliyah Levitan | Translation: Ohad Zeltzer Zubida & Ofri Aharon

When visiting the “Flying Dragon” Squadron during a training exercise, it is very easy to differentiate the guest squadron members and the home team. The “Flying Dragon” air crews’ overalls are decorated by red ranks, enemy countries patches and a unique Arabic name for each of the pilots they wear during exercises.

“Besides being code names for communicating on the radio, the Arabic names are a part of the experience the trainees undergo. They are a means of identification, help create a feeling of belonging in the squadron and also have to do with morale”, explains Maj. Avi from the squadron.

So what does an Aggressor Squadron do? “The idea is to simulate intelligence based scenarios in order to improve the IAF’s operational readiness. These are real scenarios that the Intelligence Directorate and other Intelligence Authorities asses are possible”, explains Maj. Avi.

“I train someone else every time. Today I am training two squadrons that are here, next week I will train an entire base in a readiness inspection and in the week after that I will be training Control Stations. I can train the pilot in the cockpit and the IAF Commander in making decisions. I am like a chameleon, I change my abilities and tools accordingly with the person I am training”, explains Lt. Col. Udi, the “Flying Dragon” Squadron Commander. “I have a variety of tools and very talented and diligent people who understand their mission and execute it. The beauty here is that you don’t have a routine mission, because you do something different every week and every exercise we are responsible for is different because we suit them to the squadrons coming in, to their needs and abilities”.

"Red" Sky

Photography: Mor Tzidon

How Does the Enemy Think?
“First of all, we need to know the enemy, intelligence-wise”, asserted Lt. Col. Udi. “Because there has to be a tight connection between what we do here and what happens in the field, there is an Intelligence Officer here on behalf of the Intelligence Directorate”.
The Intelligence Officer in the Squadron connects the current situation reports of threats the Intelligence Directorate creates with the squadron, in order to determine the form of training.
“Our goal is to help the squadron simulate the enemy correctly. There is a Lebanese enemy and a Syrian enemy and other different enemies and each has its own characteristics. The ‘Reds’ need to simulate the theatre accordingly”, explained Lt. Asaf, The squadron’s Intelligence Officer.

“Our aesthetic and attack characteristics also need to be similar to the enemy’s. We fly the “Netz” (F-16A/B) and our jets look different. We have external characteristics like red missiles and drop tanks so a jet that intercepts us can see that we are an enemy aircraft. What makes us special is our ability to synchronize many different tools and create playgrounds that accurately simulate real operational theatres”, added Lt. Col Udi.

“Creativity is of great value in the ‘Red’ Squadron. You always have to keep up with the enemy’s pace and think about ways to surprise the training squadrons, so we hold forums with all of our air crews and brainstorm about how to build our workshops. The forum begins with very clear goals and from the focal points of training and then we begin thinking about what kind of scenarios we need to simulate in order to achieve the exercise’s goal”, explains Maj. Ohad. “The exercise’s we hold today are completely different
than the exercise’s we held five years ago, because of the enemy’s dynamism and the high rate of change in its operation”.

"Red" Sky

Photography: Mor Tzidon

The Goal – Victory?
So is there really one clear goal – to beat the “Blue” force in the exercise? The squadron’s Deputy Commander explains why this isn’t the case: “It isn’t so much about winning or losing, it’s more about them completing the mission or not. If I think that the ‘Blues’ need to succeed in a certain mission because that is how they will learn a specific lesson, then that is what I’ll do. If I think they need to experience in order to learn something else, then I will make sure that happens. Everything is done in accordance with the exercise’s goals. It isn’t really me against them, it’s more like I am the coach and they are the players”.

Throughout the workshops, the squadron members strictly avoid creating a “Negative Exercise”. “A negative exercise is any training experience, on the ground or in the air, which leads the trainee to conclusions opposed to the operational norms expected from him. Any exercise which makes the trainee face unrealistic conditions and teaches him to take unnecessary risks”, explained Maj. Avi. “If you refine ‘Red’ flight, you need to remove the drive to win. I build a specific scenario, with a specific rational regarding the exercise and if I do everything I can in order to win, that won’t necessarily make it the best scenario for an exercise. There are no Ones or Zeros here, the most important thing is completing the mission”, explained Maj. Ohad.

“On the other hand, when I simulate a combat scenario, I will simulate the most operational scenario that I can. In this case, the method will be: ‘I am your toughest enemy now, I will do everything I can to shoot you down and you will do everything you can to complete your mission. Whoever wins, wins”, exclaimed Maj. Avi.

"Red" Sky

Photography: Yissachar Ruas

“Improve the IAF”
“I don’t think that we work like the enemy. We clearly utilize the fact that we are closely acquainted with the IAF so we act like an enemy that has complete knowledge of the force and simulate what it would do. So, in my opinion, we need to be more sophisticated than just being acting like the enemy,” Lt. Col. Udi shared.

“The pilots in the squadron are those that love flying, are good at planning scenarios and missions and have knack for command because we are a training unit. We train squadrons in operational exercises, which is the nature of this place”, explained Maj. Avi. “The bottom line is that our mission is to improve the IAF, not shoot it down or defeat it. Some elements of belonging to the squadron and the soldiers’ morale have to do with coming back from the field and saying ‘we challenged them, we shot them down’ but the squadron’s success is not measured by this. It’s measured later, in the IAF’s operational activity and whether or not it was completed. If the squadrons were able to face the enemy, if they were able to escape the enemy, complete the mission in the best and most efficient manner, which is what we’re looking to improve”.

"Red" Sky