Last week, the IAF’s transport helicopter squadrons, SAR Unit 669 and Israeli Navy units all participated in an ASR (Air-sea rescue) training exercise. About the air, sea and everything in between

Hadas Levav

IAF and Navy joint ASR (Air-sea rescue) training exercises are conducted a few times a year off Israel’s shores. In the exercise, the IAF’s “Yanshuf” (Black-hawk) and “Yas’ur” (CH-53) helicopter squadrons and SAR Unit 669 cooperate with Israeli Navy Units. In the most recent exercise, which was held last week, the participants rehearsed two kinds of ASR – rescuing sailors from naval vessels and rescuing individuals from the water.

Helicopters Rehearse ASR

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Step after Step
Holding a helicopter in a low hover above the water, sometimes in complete darkness, makes ASR one of the transport helicopters division’s most complex missions. “The first stage in ASR is finding the rescuee. A helicopter scrambled to rescue injured individuals from the sea needs to understand where they are and make sure that the helicopter’s activity isn’t threatened in that area”, explained Lt. Nadav, the exercise leader from the “Rolling Sword” Squadron, which operates the “Yanshuf” (Black-hawk) helicopter. “The next stage is deciding on a search method and understanding if the rescuee has the ability to communicate with us”.

In the event that the mission is to rescue individuals from a naval vessel, it is possible to communicate via the vessel’s radio systems. “If we can communicate with them, we try to understand their situation as they might be badly injured or about to lose consciousness. The next stage is trying to reach them, in the case of downed pilots, we ask them to use detection measures such as color that disperses in the water and allows us to identify them from a distance. It isn’t easy to find a dot floating in the sea from a distance, especially when we can’t communicate with the rescuee”.

Once the rescuees are found, the helicopter carefully hovers down towards them. “The rescue itself is the most complex stage. We hover above the rescuees and repel the SAR operators who take care of them and prepare them for getting back in the helicopter”, explains Lt. Nadav. “In ASR, it’s difficult for the pilot to identify the terrain and steady the helicopter, but we must allow the operators to descend safely”.

Helicopters Rehearse ASR

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Two Rescue Operations from Naval Vessels in the Last Month
The rescue must be fully synchronized with the crew chief, who operates as the commander of the helicopter’s cargo load and is responsible for repelling and hoisting the operators. While doing so, he also directs the helicopter to the rescuee and tries to keep the helicopter at a fixed point. “It’s a mission that requires a lot of team work”.

Besides rescue from the water, the IAF also has the capability to rescue sailors and civilians from military and civilian sea vessels. “It’s another complex rescue mission, you must carefully hover above the ship while it continues to sail. We practice the maneuver between our aircraft and the vessel”, explained Lt. Nadav. “ASR is seldom required, but we still make sure to maintain our fitness for the mission because you never know”. IAF transport helicopters performed two ASR missions during the past month.

Helicopters Rehearse ASR

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One Language
ASR is also rehearsed in extreme situations such as difficult weather conditions and missile threats. “There is a mission and it needs to be performed. When a pilot will eject over the sea, we will do everything we can to rescue him, so the goal of the exercise is to rehearse the various challenges we face in ASR”.

The cooperation between squadrons, units and forces plays a major part in ASR training exercises and missions. “During the exercise, SAR Unit 669 operators came to the squadron, participated in mutual briefs with the aircrews and then went out to train in the sea”, Lt. Nadav shared. “We also trained with various navy units. The IAF speaks a different language from the navy but because we have been training for this mission for years, each side knows how to do its part in the best way possible”.