The IAF’s Transport Helicopter Squadrons and the “First” Reconnaissance Squadron, returned from a comprehensive training exercise which was held in Greece. For two weeks, the aircrews flew in unknown areas and in changing topography and strengthened their cooperation. In addition, the Air Support and Helicopter Division Commander met with his Greek counterpart for the first time

Capt. Sapir Nisim

A joint IAF and Hellenic Air Force exercise has come to an end. For two consecutive weeks, the IAF’s “Yas’ur” (CH-35) and “Yanshuf” (Blackhawk) transport helicopters and “Tzofit” (Beechcraft King Air B-200) light transport aircraft trained in the skies of Greece alongside HAF Apache combat helicopters and fighter jets. “Israel is an amazing but small country”, said Brig. Gen. Nir Nin-Nun, the Commander of the Air Support and Helicopter Division. “Our goal is to train our aircrews in new conditions and areas, one of which being Mount Olympus, at a height of 10,000 feet”.

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Photo by: Capt. Sapir Nissim

Testing Operational Tools and Combat Doctrines
The exercise, included complex mutual training. The aircrews faced various scenarios such as navigation sorties, PSAR (Pilot Search and Rescue) missions and unplanned circumstances arising in the air, all in English. “The exercise included cooperation between different IAF divisions and squadrons and cooperation with the Hellenic Air Force while flying in unknown territory, changing topography and tall mountains”, shared Brig. Gen. N’, Commander of Palmahim AFB, who was also the commander of the exercise.

“Deployment is an excellent and significant training platform which allows us to rehearse scenarios which are harder to perform in Israel”, said Lt. Col. Zohar, Commander of the “Desert Birds” Squadron which led the deployment. “Long distance flights, in an unfamiliar area and in changing weather allow us to take operational tools and combat doctrines that we rehearse in Israel to a new level, test them and draw conclusions”.

Even while operating non-stop and facing a rising difficulty level throughout the exercise, the aircrews did not forget the helicopter crash which occurred on July 26, 2010 in a joint IAF – Romanian Air Force training exercise. “We took off for more than 200 sorties: 16 day flights and 16 night flights, with the Romania disaster always in the background. The weather affects us but we do everything we can in regard to risk management”, shared Lt. Col. Zohar. “We want to meet the highest standards there are, make the most of the missions set for ourselves while sharpening our professional discussion”.

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Photo by: Capt. Sapir Nissim

“Priceless Cooperation”: First Senior Meeting
Besides the operational advantages the training exercise held, it also was of strategic-international significance. During the exercise Brig. Gen. Nin-Nun met with Brig. Gen. Christos Iliopoylos, the Hellenic Army Aviation Director. Both senior commanders entered their current positions in 2016 and this was their first meeting.

As a part of the meeting, Brig. Gen. Nir Nin-Nun toured Stefanovikio base, was acquainted with the Hellenic aircraft and squadrons. The two commanders discussed operational matters, issues in human resources and training exercises and scenarios that both forces deal with. Brig. Gen. Iliopoylos said that he understands the operational challenges that Israel deals with and appreciates its great operational experience.

“Greece is a strategic partner of the state of Israel. Cooperation in the military rank is important and fertile for both countries and allows us to train better and maintain our preparedness”, said the Air Support and Helicopter Division Commander. “This exercise is part of a priceless cooperation. In the past, the Greeks traveled to Israel to train with us. I think that this cooperation is stable and has a horizon of partnership, mutual trust and friendship between two countries helping each other”.

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Photo by: Capt. Sapir Nissim

Alpha Together
This is the second time a “Tzofit” aircraft joined the exercise in Greece. “We, in practice, began this exercise where exactly where we left off last time. The abilities the ‘Tzofit’ grants in an exercise is unparalleled in the Hellenic Air Force”, stated Col. Amir, Commander of Sde-Dov AFB. “We cooperate with Hellenic fighter jets, and the closure of the aerial surveillance is dramatic, and strengthens the strategic perception”.

The participation of the “Tzofit” in the exercise has three main goals: improvement of flight abilities in unfamiliar areas and in changing weather, strengthening the basics of surveillance while incorporating various tools and strengthening the cooperation with the Hellenic Air Force. “We must be sharp and precise”, said Col. Amir. “Optimal cooperation between the ‘Tzofit’ and Hellenic fighter jet will bring the ‘Alpha’. We implemented conclusions from the last exercise and thought about more elements that we would like to perform in the next exercise, such as unplanned scenarios”.

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Photo by: Capt. Sapir Nissim

The Goal: Every Sortie Takes Off
Alongside the aircrews, about 200 maintenance division personnel from various IAF bases also took off for the exercise and were responsible for making sure that all of the equipment that they might need throughout the exercise, makes it to the deployment base and for the maintenance and readiness of the aircraft. “From the side it seems quite easy, but today I understand how detail oriented you must be and that one malfunction can delay all of the activity”, shared Maj. Rami, Commander of the Helicopter Branch in Palmahim AFB’s Maintenance Squadron, who was the maintenance leader in the exercise. “We began to carefully prepare six months in advance and our goal was that every sortie would take off as planned, without technical malfunctions”.”Yas’ur” helicopters were also deployed to the last exercise, and they did not take off for all of the planned sorties as a result of routine maintenance. “As a part of the conclusion drawing process, this time we brought another ‘Yas’ur’, as to not delay the exercise in case one of the helicopters requires any maintenance”.

According to Maj. Rami, the challenge of an overseas deployment is the combination of all of the technical departments which do not necessarily all belong to the same base, and in his case, three different bases. “Because many squadrons participated in the exercise, it was decided that there would be a Technical Officer from one squadron and that his deputy would be a Maintenance Officer from another. This is how we utilized the cooperation between our squadrons to the fullest, allowed correct synchronization between the different position holders who are not used to working together, and created a cooperative interaction and mutual fertilization”, he said. “Preparing technical equipment a month and a half before a deployment is very challenging, and the cooperation between the units was amazing”.

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Photo by: Capt. Sapir Nissim

Looking to the Future
This is the Helicopter Division’s fourth deployment Greece, and it seems that the cooperation between the two countries will bear fruits in the future.

“The IAF’s international training exercises are a strategic component in the IAF’s activity and are of national significance”, emphasized Maj. Hagai, Head of the Joint International Exercises Department. “The IAF’s international training program is decided as a part of its work plan. We expect to expand our cooperation with different countries and open up to new fields, alongside continuous mutual work with our close allies”.