The Israel Air Force will inaugurate a new squadron of fighter jets into service this week.

No, it is not the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which will arrive in a few years. This squadron does not take off from the ground.

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Instead of real fighter jets, this squadron consists of eight simulator pods, all of current Israeli fighter jets including the various models of the F-15s and F-16s that make up the backbone of the IAF’s attack fleet.

They are located in the Hatzor Airbase near Ashdod. Pilots will use them to practice dogfights, bombing runs and air maneuvers.

Referred to as a “simulator farm,” the squadron was constructed by Elbit Systems. Each simulator has seats for two airmen – a pilot and a navigator – and there is an additional simulator strictly for navigators where they can practice bombing maneuvers and attack modes.

The first two-seater simulator for the F-16I was installed earlier this year at a cost of close to $20 million. The simulator was developed by Elbit Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries and Lockheed Martin. IAF pilots usually train with simulators at least four times a year.

Elbit, which developed the avionics systems for use in the actual F-16I aircraft, also provided the systems for the simulator.

The IAF said the simulators would save money on fuel and allow pilots to drill maneuvers and scenarios that cannot be performed in live flights. By the summer of 2012, the simulators will be connected to one another and enable pilots to practice joint missions.

The IAF is also developing technology that will allow it to connect the simulators to real aircraft and hold joint exercises, with some crew in aircraft and others in simulators.

The simulators will allow pilots to practice flying over countries such as Lebanon and Syria.

Satellite footage is processed into 3D views so it can be used when pilots need to simulate a mission in enemy territory.

“We can do dress rehearsals of specific operations in real places and insert into the scenarios real threats and challenges,” a top IAF officer explained recently.

The IAF will also use the simulators to train its pilots in flying against advanced surface-to-air missiles, which are becoming a growing threat in the region. In real flights, IAF pilots do not see missiles fired at them, but in the simulators they will.

“Let’s say there is a new threat that arrives in the region,” the officer said. “We will be able to insert its parameters into the simulators and practice flying against it.

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