The cooperation and communication between the ATC (Air Traffic Controllers) and the Air-Crews greatly affect the success of the mission. A mutual course which brought the ATC and Helicopter squadrons together was held for the first time recently, and strengthened the connection between the two and clarified the ATC Division’s place in the IAF’s routine activity

Shachar Zorani | Translation: Ofri Aharon

CH-53 helicopter is deployed to a rescue mission on the Gaza border as a part of a training exercise. While the helicopter crew prepares for takeoff, information starts flowing from the IAF’s control station to the ATC personnel who are in contact with the deploying pilots. “An IDF force was hit by an explosive in the strip, there are wounded soldiers”, the information is delivered from the station and communicated to the helicopter crew by the ATC. “The last report we received was that they were exchanging fire. We cannot contact the force”.

The magnitude of the event and its details are still unknown, the uncertainty is felt in the air. Meanwhile, additional aircraft are deployed to the area and a few minutes later, the incident becomes clear and an exact report is communicated, including the current intelligence image, number of wounded and their situation. “One minute to landing”, the pilot reports and checks if the combatants are prepared in the predefined point. The helicopter crew knows that it is a threatened area, but understands that they must get in and extract the injured soldiers. The goal is clear: spend the shortest time possible on the ground.

In this case, the scenario described above was practiced as a part of a training exercise, but scenarios like it are common in the IAF and require the force to operate in uncertainty. In order to succeed in this mission, a cooperation course for the helicopter and ATC division was held recently, as a part of which ATCs from different units visited the “Leaders of the Night” Squadron which operates the CH-5 for mutual activity days. “We deal with cooperation with the fighter squadrons so much”, testified Maj. Roei, an ATC who leads the cooperation in the division. “In light of lessons learned, we understood that we have to take a step towards the world of helicopters, because the exercises conducted with the division until now were not satisfactory and did not prepare the ATCs for H-hour”.

What would happen if there wasn’t ATC?

Photography: Jonathan Zalk

The ATC Division – What and Why?
The ATC division takes part in all of the IAFs operational activity and exercises. It has an important role in the operational chain, it creates an aerial picture and supervises the aerial forces through synchronization and management of the space while maintaining safety. However today, in an era of advanced systems and technologies and in which the control station is responsible for communicating the mission to the aerial forces, where does the ATC division enter the operational chain and what is its advantage?

“The controller provides instructions but the operational process is controlled by the ATC Unit as the controller is responsible for planning ahead, thinking and managing multiple people. The ATC Unit receives the missions in the arena and its goal is to synchronize the participants in order to ensure each mission’s goal is achieved”, explained Maj. Roei.

What would happen if there was no control over activity?

“The IAF would operate in an inefficient manner”, determined Maj. Roei. “The aerial space is large but limited and in real time every control station and aircraft focus solely on their mission. We have the bigger picture of the aerial scenario and our job is to operate accordingly with the required output and as efficiently as possible in order to communicate a large amount of targets in minimum radio time and maintain security. The ATCs are a critical and crucial factor in war and without them we would conduct missions incorrectly and possibly lose lives”.

What would happen if there wasn’t ATC?

Efficient, right and effective
As stated before, the cooperation between the infantry forces and the ATC Division has been put aside over the past couple of years as the combat division took its place. Lately, the ATC Division personnel have been leading a new project with an emphasis on the helicopter and assistance fields, with the Cooperation Course with the goal of improving the work between the sides as well as the operational efficiency of the IAF, is the first step in a long journey.

“This course is a test and a significant part of the process”, states Maj. Roei. “The world of helicopters is very wide and as controllers we did not completely understand the cockpit, where the pilot needs us most and what exactly he needs from us. The course creates openness and intimacy, it will improve the efficiency of the ATCs work and make the mutual work better, easier and more effective”.

Throughout the course the ATCs and aircrews worked together under the same roof. They started their morning with a shared briefing and finish their day with a mutual debriefing, in order to get to know each other better and improve each other’s work methods “Throughout the week it was important for us to learn as much as possible. Whatever you teach us today is what we will be doing tomorrow in the ATC Unit. This is a large step forward for us and a breakthrough in dealing with this field that until today was just a niche”, stated Lt. Elad, a controller in the Southern ATC Unit that lead the course. Lt. Inbal, a controller from the Northern ATC Unit added: “We are utilizing this opportunity and are planning the next courses in accordance with the operational insights that will be derived in this workshop, giving this workshop an immediate effect. The vision is that every controller in the ATC Unit will know how to work the helicopter station and not just those who specialize in it in the ATC Unit”.

Part of the team
The connection between the aircrews and the ATC division is significant for conducting missions and thus it has been stated the controller is “number five” in the formation. When each one of the sides is in “their house” and does their job this expression is not perceived, however throughout the course when those wearing green overalls sat alongside those wearing grey overalls, the expression gained great significance. “In my opinion, the controller is definitely part of the team”, stated Capt. Eyal from the “Leaders of the Night Squadron”. “The controller is responsible for reporting in real time, which creates order, allows the mission to take less time and makes it successful”.

“During the cooperation week and after the flight, we understood what the helicopters does better, what its aircrews focus on during activity, when the burden of the flight is greatest so the radio should stay quiet and when they need the controllers”, shared Lt. Elad and Lt Inbal. “In addition, we understood how we sound from the other side and we could learn from it, because we understand how to work the best and know how to find ways to improve”.

What would happen if there wasn’t ATC?

Photography: Jonathan Zalk