A Unique Drill
- Last week, many IDF forces relocated and exercised an entire month of fighting on Cyprus’ soil. What was the IAF’s role in this extraordinary deployment? Which aerial forces are relevant when the combat’s in deep enemy territory? How does a helicopter aid a commando squad on top of a mountain in a hostile country? And how did it even occur that a country lets in a large number of soldiers that belong to a foreign country and exercise a large-scale offense strategy? Here’s the information about the most thrilling week of war month
The scenario’s this – four weeks ago, an escalation in the state of security began. One day of combat, and another one, until we can declare – we’re at war. Every front is involved – from the south, north, from countries nearby and faraway, the threats are real and intense. Last week began the ground maneuver. Thousands of Israeli soldiers arrive at a distant enemy state and carry out an offensive move. For a battalion located in the heart of a foreign state, on the ground, when its enemies are the homeowners and no place is safe – its backup, its ability to reach and exit the fight, its rout of supply and extraction – comes from the air.
We gather inside a hanger in “Nevatim” AFB that’s being used as a terminal this week. The hours go by, and the great hall is filled by unit after unit – soldiers in tactical uniforms, fatigues, packed with equipment and ammunition on their backs. And at the end – the homeowners, dressed in a jumpsuit.
“Most combat soldiers in the units are accustomed to the exercising grounds of Israel and are well acquainted with it. Cyprus, however, allows exercising in unfamiliar territory”, explains Lt. Maj. A’, commander of the deployment and the 123rd (“Desert Birds”) Squadron, which operates the “Yanshuf” helicopters. It’s clear to all of us that maneuvering in enemy territory brings with it the experience of being in unfamiliar territory, so training in Israel, where there are a limited number of training areas that the teams already know most of them by heart, has limited effectiveness. This is exactly the upside of exercising in a foreign country – it doesn’t matter how it’ll be studied through maps beforehand, the experience of physically training there and the sounds of Israeli aircraft engines are yet to be felt there. Hence this drill resembles a real war scenario in the best way possible.
Another advantage of the drill taking place in Cyprus is its topography. The highest mountain the helicopters are used to is Mount Hermon. What’ll happen when the pilots meet a much higher mountain ridge? The oxygen concentration changes, which affects the helicopter’s behavior and the weight it can carry, the maneuvering between a valley to a mountain gets a different nature. Cyprus is blessed with much higher mountain ridges than Israel, thus making it a relevant exercising territory and similar to some of our enemy’s countries.
Why’s the drill challenging for the ground forces? For exactly the same reasons. The combat soldiers are unfamiliar with the field therefore, they don’t know where a threat will appear from, what is the best way to get in and out of places, where’s it smart to hide, and which location is ideal for striking. How do you deal with this challenge, which’s also relevant in actual wartime? The ground forces’ lack of sight’s completed by the aerial angle. The intelligence-gathering squadrons are a crucial part of this fight, seeing that they are “an eye in the sky”. “We have four different cameras on the “Tzofit” (Beechcraft King Air) aircraft, we take a live photo of the field and immediately transfer it to the CP (command post) that’s on the ground”, describes Staff Sgt. D, air cruiser in the 100th (“Flying Camel”) Squadron. Imagine a commander entering an area with a force, and he needs to send soldiers to check if the area’s clear. Instead, imagine he has a live photograph of the area in his hand. That way, he knows if there are other people, missile launchers, or traps in the area.The Deep Connection behind the Drill
This drill, which simulated operational scenarios on foreign soil, was possible thanks to the strong cooperation Israel has with the Cyprus armed forces. The fact that Cyprus allows such a large number of soldiers from Israel to enter its territory and train together isn’t to be taken for granted. The strategical accomplishment of a drill on such a big scale that’ll allow the most intense scenarios of a dystopian war to become familiar and exercised is only possible when there’s deep trust and cooperation. This level of connection was seen the very moment the Israeli delegation to Cyprus landed. Suddenly many of its people recognized the members of Cyprus’s air force, said hello, and exchanged hugs since only a few months prior, they’d flown together in a shared drill in the 124th (“Rolling Sword”) Squadron.
In this spirit, the Israeli helicopter pilots flew together with pilots from Cyprus’s air force a few joint flights during the drill. One can wonder, how is there time for diplomatic flights during an intense scenario of wartime? The answer is that the personal connections formed, the mutual appreciation, and the professional and friendly conversation between the people of the different states is everything. It’s the determining factor for which state will allow us to exercise in its territory, be safe for our people, and stand by us even if everyone turns against us.