(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Israel Air Force training exercises in Romania, in which a Yasour helicopter crashed on Monday with the loss of six Israeli airmen and one Romanian military officer, were primarily aimed at improving the IAF’s capacity to maneuver in the kind of terrain characteristic of neighboring states, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i indicated on Thursday.
“We fly in Romania because we train in conditions so that we can act in all places, including those that are not immediately adjacent to us, including [deep] inside neighboring Arab states,” Vilna’i said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
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“Getting there is complex; it’s no simple story,” he went on. “We are building up our abilities in conditions that are beyond our home ground, which is already too familiar to us.”
The training in Romania should be understood in the context of preparing for possible conflict, said Vilna’i.
“The immediate circle is no longer at the border,” he said. “It’s deep within [neighboring states]. Therefore the capacity to work at those distances is a capacity we need to practice all the time. That’s something that didn’t used to be the case. Today, it’s part of the IDF’s routine.”
Yasour helicopters – Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallions – are the IAF’s main workhorse and are primarily used for transporting troops as well as special forces, such as the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, better known as Sayeret Matkal. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the Yasour helicopters flew Sayeret Matkal commandos deep into the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon to a Hizbullah compound in search of information related to the kidnapped reservists whose abduction triggered the conflict. Many of the helicopter’s missions still remain classified.
One of the advantages of training in Romania – in addition to pilots becoming more familiar with new terrain – is the ability to train against capacities that are also in the hands of Israel’s enemies. The Yasour helicopter fleet would play a key role in any future conflict, and therefore pilots would need to learn how to fly in a dangerous environment where they could come under surface-to-air missile fire.
The Romanian Air Force base in Boboc, where the IDF delegation was based during the exercise, is the flight school for the RAF and is also where training is conducted to learn how to fly undetected.
Nonetheless, Vilna’i stressed that he saw no likelihood of war breaking
out on the northern border in the foreseeable future, and noted that
every spring and summer, there were reports of war fears, which usually
turned out to be baseless.
He stressed the abiding impact of Israel’s post-2006 deterrent
capability, and also detailed what he said was the significant progress
Israel had made in its capacity to take out long-range missile
launchers, to intercept incoming missiles, and to protect the Israeli
home front more effectively in the event of missile attack.The full interview with Vilna’i will appear in
The Jerusalem Post next week.