Nestled deep in the maze of an Israel Air Force base, secretive units form an
essential component in any Israeli air strike in enemy territory with air
Indeed, they would have been an inseparable part of recent air
force strikes in Syria, attributed to Israel by foreign media reports, to stop
the transfer of sophisticated missiles and air defenses to Hezbollah.
potential future air campaign in Iran, against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear
sites, would be possible without the units.
This is the Electronic
Warfare (EW) Section, which is made up of two units.
One operates from
the air in specially fitted planes, and the second is ground based.
two units work in synergy, viewing themselves as part of a greater
They disrupt the enemy’s radar systems, blinding and dazing those
being targeted for strikes. They can paralyze enemy communications systems
needed to coordinated defenses.
The units also keep fighter jets safe
from enemy EW attacks.
When “playing defense,” EW personnel will disrupt
the communications of hostile aircraft, such as Hezbollah drones, attempting to
intrude upon Israeli airspace, and prevent them from communicating with their
The IAF’s airborne Electronic Warfare unit – called Sky
Crows – has a new commander, a 39-year-old father of three, who spoke to The
Jerusalem Post from his office in early September.
“What is Electronic
Warfare? It’s a thought experiment,” he said cryptically.
Hampered by the
need to keep the unit’s activities classified, the commander divulged the little
that he could.
“This is a war between two sides. Each side works with
radars and communications.
The enemy uses these. He wants to protect his
“We want to protect our skies,” he continued.
readout is the basis of how we seek our skies.”
“We’re not firing kinetic
weapons, but rather, electrons, so that the other side will find it very, very,
very difficult to discover our jets,” the commander, a lieutenant-colonel,
The world of Electronic Warfare is like an eternal cat and mouse
game, he added. “We must stay one step ahead,” he stressed. He warned against
underestimating Israel’s enemies, and said that keeping a modest attitude is
“EW is an intrinsic part of achieving aerial supremacy. If a plane
penetrates Israeli air space, we have the ability to disrupt its
communications,” he said.
“We’re a full partner in maintaining Israeli
air security, and in missions of supreme national security,” he
“Wherever the IAF is required to take action, we’ll be there.
We’re a part of all of the IAF’s sub-missions. We’ll defend the fighter plane
that will fly in combat,” the source said. He referred to a “security envelope,”
also known as an “EW suit,” which must be fitted around every warplane heading
into action. “This is an encompassing suit,” the source explained.
connected by the umbilical cord to all of the air force’s operational needs.
We’re in close cooperation with the flight squadrons. There’s an ongoing
dialogue between us,” he added.
Communication with the air force’s
headquarters in Tel Aviv also maintains a key aspect of the EW units’
“This cooperation is critical to success.
strength,” the commander said.
During peacetime, EW units prepare
themselves for the need to scramble sorties quickly.
exactly what is occurring in near and distant arenas.
We adapt ourselves
to this and provide solutions,” the commander explained.
During a future
war, EW units must also be able to continue to function under intense rocket and
missile attacks on the Israeli home front, and are working to ensure that they
can do so.
The Sky Crows unit has lost 14 of its members – 13 to enemy
fire – in its history.
The unit’s commander said he stays in touch with
all of the bereaved families. “I emphasize this because it underlines why we’re
here: for the love of the homeland. This is a central message I impart to the
others,” he said.
“After three years of service, we all become reserves.
Everyone who serves here wants to be here, and is therefore a
The son of Holocaust survivors, the commander has put up a
poster in his office depicting the historic flight of Israel fighter jets over
the Auschwitz death camp in Poland in 2003.
“My focus is on the
resurrection of the Jewish people. I don’t live in the shadow of the idea that
all was lost.
Revival is my home, a sense of mission and Zionism. We have
no other land,” he said. “We are prepared to sacrifice our lives.”
hard to explain to those on the outside what the unit does, the commander
“This is part of the challenge. We can’t talk about it at home. The
people who make up this unit are the cream of the crop.”
“But they can
say very little,” he added.
The air force’s EW Section has its own school
that trains future generations of personnel.
The school’s commander, a
captain who, like the unit commander, cannot be named, sits in his office in a
flight suit. He has a dual role, for in addition to commanding the training
school, the captain also operates electronic warfare systems himself in the Sky
Most of the time, though, the captain is busy ensuring that
EW operators from the ground and airborne units are qualified for their
Prospective cadets pass through a series of physical and mental
tests before commencing training. Some cadets are headhunted; others have been
rejected from air force fighter jet pilot courses and end up here.
takes one year to train them fully, and the unit members –both men and women –
are then required to serve for two years.
“Just one year of operational
service isn’t enough,” the school commander said.
After a month of basic
training, the cadets arrive at his school, an experience he compares to
“entering a tunnel. In the first week they’re in shock. They’re in very tough
circumstances, under physical strain, and they must comply with strict
Then, the cadets head to a training base near Hatzerim in
the South, for a course in field combat skills and firearms
“This is necessary,” the school commander said, “because they
can end up in hostile enemy territory. Airborne units could be shot down.”
Later, the cadets return and begin learning the fundamental aspects of the EW
world. They start by studying physics, and the composition of an electromagnetic
“After the basics, they move on to the intelligence aspects, target
selection, and how to utilize EW. They get to know the targets intimately, in
order to know how to strike them,” the source stated.
“We drum into them
the fact that in one moment, they could go from operating their systems at high
altitudes to being on the ground and fighting for their lives [if they’re shot
down],” he said.
“The scope of material they must learn is enormous.
They’re tested at the end of every week. They get to go home once every three
weeks. This is what it takes to be in an EW unit,” the captain
Each new course is made up of 18 soldiers, and a third of the
cadets are typically female (though in the last course there was just one
The cadets must pass a selections committee, which decides if
they can become operators. A second committee, headed by a unit commander,
decides who will go to the airborne and ground-based units. Those found unfit
for service are let go.
In the next stage, the young men and women
interact for the first time with the EW systems. They also meet fighter jet
“They’ll start using simulators, too. We continue with the
strict discipline, and the cadets remain disconnected from all other things,”
the school commander noted. In the final week of this stage, the prospective EW
operators tour defense industries that work closely with their units. After
three- and-a-half months, they complete the first stage of their
For the next seven months, the soon to be operators must master
their complex system. The emphasis on discipline now decreases.
commander listed the main training points of the advanced training phase:
“They’ll learn about actual enemy targets.What to do against whom. How
to take off and use the systems. The differences between routine flights and
combat missions. The changing threat.”
“They also learn about
their role in the wider context of our EW capabilities, and that they form an
inseparable part of this,” he said. After the final stage, the cadets become
operational unit members. Later, some will become officers, and will go on to
train the next wave of cadets.
“This is a place where we don’t tell
others what we do. It’s very hidden. We’re active every day. The classified
aspect creates big difficulties in explaining what we do to the outside world,”
said the school commander.
Two young Electronic Warfare operators, who
are also instructors, spoke to the Post on their base.
One, a female
operator, explained, “It’s not trivial that a woman signs on for three years.
The implications of what we’re doing are known to us, both as instructors and
operators. This is hard work, but it’s satisfying.”
A male operator
added, “You understand that you’re connected to everything that goes in the air
force. You know everything.
You know there are things that must stay with