The next generation of officers who will command air defense batteries is set to complete its training in the coming days.
Lt.-Col. Avi Hadida is tasked with training future officers and commanders for the Israel Air Force’s Defense Command at a base in the northwest Negev.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Monday, Hadida said the soon-to-be officers are using real air defense systems this week to conclude their four-month training course.
“They’ll become air defense battery commanders – the equivalent of Company Commanders in the infantry – and then they’ll receive advanced training,” he said.
This week’s exercise features a simulated war breaking out and “enemies” lobbing a shower of rockets, missiles and hostile aircraft at Israel.
Course cadets operated Iron Domes, Patriots, and the Arrow batteries.
“Real air defense batteries of every kind arrived at the school for the drill,” Hadida said. “We gave them an operational order and then the commanders stepped back to allow the cadets to take command in an emergency situation.”
During the training, officers had to quickly prepare their systems for action to shoot down enemy missiles and aircraft threatening Israeli airspace.
The drill will end next week and the cadets will enter official service, leading crews that staff air defenses all over Israel.
Some have already gained experience staffing Iron Dome batteries during last year’s conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, while others took part in the deployment of air defenses in August in preparation of US action against Syria that did not end up materializing.
“In a war, we’ll have the shortest time to respond. There will be no time to plan. Our battle will be at the speed of rockets,” Hadida said. “Within seconds, we’ll have to be professional enough, confident, and combative to take action. An officer managing an Iron Dome battery and who sees a rocket fall on his home in Ashkelon has to stay strong. It’s a battle lasting seconds.”
To that end, training focuses on getting the cadets into an emergency frame of mind in next to no time.
“We might have to directly observe an enemy aircraft before taking action,” Hadida warned.
“We’re the last obstacle. There’s no one left after us. And we’re the first to warn others. This means we must be very sharp and keep our cool,” he added.
“When you’re under fire in Ashkelon, you have to keep calm, believe in yourself and the people working with you.”
Hadida said Israel possessed the best active air defenses in the world.
“The other thing we develop is leadership and we instill values in our officers. We focus on the sense of purpose, what moves them forward. Past battle legacies. On this course, we discussed the Yom Kippur War and how anti-aircraft guns shot down dozens of enemy planes,” he said.
“We want to develop an officer who is a professional leader, someone others will go after,” said Hadida.
“What makes our system so successful operationally is the combination between man and machine. Machines, no matter how advanced, won’t work without officers operating them, and being on standby at all hours,” he continued.
Hadida said Israeli civilians also have a responsibility to follow the instructions of the Home Front Command during projectile attacks and protect themselves.