The Israeli Air Force began a week-long drill on Sunday, simulating a multi-front war with all the platforms and squadrons, including for the first time the F-35i Adir stealth fighter jet.
The drill includes all aircraft from combat squadrons, helicopters and transport planes as well as troops from the Aerial Defense Division and the IAF control units.
“All of the air force is in the air,” a senior Israel Air Force officer – speaking on condition of anonymity – told reporters on Tuesday, adding: “The entire force is taking part in the drill, from the technical branch to the operational staff and the commanders, and the Air Force commander himself.”
Troops taking part in the drill “have to make hard decisions in real-time like during war.”
The F-35, which took part “both during the day and night” in the drill for the first time, has “increased the capabilities and lethality of the Air Force” the senior officer said, adding that the jet not only allows the IAF to strike the enemy quickly but gets them into areas where the IAF “hasn’t been able to get to before.”
Built by Lockheed Martin, the jets have an low radar signature allowing the jet to operate undetected deep inside enemy territory as well as evade advanced missile defense systems like the S-300 and S-400 missile defense systems which have been deployed in countries such as Syria.
With close air-support capabilities and a massive array of sensors, pilots of the stealth jet have unparalleled access to information while in the air.
“We are practicing uncertainty, flying in spaces of ambiguity, not knowing exactly who the enemy is and where they might be. This allows us to get used to uncertain situations, which is an important ability to have,” the officer said, adding that troops are also drilling on the ability to carry out strikes while minimizing civilian casualties.
The drill aims to improve the IAF’s readiness to respond to a multi-front wartime scenario including numerous attacks over a short period of time, as well as assistance to ground forces who are “full partners in the drill.”
“We want to reach a situation in which the soldiers in the field will converge on a target after we have hit the enemy’s targets and let him in,” he said.
While simulating a multi-front combat scenario, the drill’s focus is on Israel’s northern front “where the enemy is the most challenging” the officer said.
Since the last war with Hezbollah in 2006, the Shi’ite Lebanese group has significantly increased its rocket arsenal. Israel’s home front is expected to be bombarded by thousands of rockets and missiles. The group has also significantly increased its battlefield knowledge from its time in Syria and is believed to have advanced weapons systems.
Hezbollah, called a “terrorist army” by senior IDF officers, is believed to have stronger technology and capabilities than some armies in the region. Despite losing thousands of fighters in Syria, Hezbollah has grown in strength and military know-how.
As part of the drill, IAF troops are training to hit enemy positions before crews can launch their rockets towards the Israeli home front.
“If they start with thousands of rockets per day, we are hoping to be able to make it so there are only a few being launched and to intercept those that are launched,” the officer said.
The IAF is also drilling for the possibility that Hezbollah will target air force bases and aircraft in the sky, he said, explaining that jets will spend less than an hour on the ground following a mission before they take off for their next target.
The officer said that the air force is also drilling on its ability to strike the enemy in a quick and lethal manner to ensure they will be unable to attack the ground troops.
Also on Tuesday, Israel President Reuven Rivlin warned Lebanon and Hezbollah against attacking Israel.
“Then, as now, we have and have never had anything against the Lebanese people. Then, as now, it was the terrorist organizations that exploited the weakness of Lebanon, the Lebanese state, to attack the State of Israel and its citizens,” he said during a memorial ceremony for the fallen of the First Lebanon War in 1982.
“We warn Hezbollah not to impose Iran’s agenda on Lebanon, and we warn Lebanon not to be a base for attacks on Israel,” he said. “We are not eager to fight. But the IDF is alert and ready to respond to any threat and to any scenario. The State of Israel will not stand idly by and will ensure that citizens of Israel continue to sleep peacefully!”