Military Affairs: The simulators training the next generation of navy officers

‘It’s not like being at the wheel of a car,’ one cadet training to be a submarine driver tells the ‘Post’ at a Haifa naval base

A cadet trains in a simulator of a submarine. (photo credit: IDF)
A cadet trains in a simulator of a submarine.
(photo credit: IDF)
As Israel’s navy waits for its latest submarines and missile ships to guard the seas, cadets are busy training in state-of-the-art simulators.
While most details about Israel’s submarine fleet are under heavy guard and rarely publicized, The Jerusalem Post had the opportunity to speak to and join the instructors and cadets currently training on simulators at the navy’s Haifa base.
Being at the wheel of a submarine “is not like being at the wheel of a car,” said one soldier, who for security reasons cannot be named.
The Post joined cadets in the simulator during an exercise where the cadet demonstrated an emergency rise to the surface.
Within moments, the simulator tilted 45 degrees, a strange feeling for one unaccustomed to such movements.
But the cadet at the wheel, in control of a multimillion-dollar system, was all smiles.
“It’s like a roller coaster,” he said.
The cadet was training to be a submarine driver, a crucial role on a vessel that the commander of the Israel Navy, Vice-Admiral Eliyahu Sharvit calls the military’s “trump card.”
The mission of the IDF’s submarine unit (Shayetet 7) is to destroy enemy ships, control port entrances, carry out classified espionage activities and assist other units during combat.
Cadets in the elite submarine unit spend hours learning in the simulators over a course of at least six months, with some drills lasting over three hours. While most training happens one-on-one with instructors, once a week a team of four or five sailors train together.
But, said simulator instructor Sgt. Alona Amir, “even if we spend 24/7 with troops in the simulator, it’s not enough time to teach everyone.”
ISRAEL’S SUBMARINE force was first established in 1959 by Capt. Yosef Dror, and began with just two World War II-era diesel boats – the HMS Springer (later renamed the INS Tanin), and the HMS Sanguine (later renamed the INS Rahav).
Sixty years later, Israel has three Dolphin-class submarines and two Dolphin 2-class submarines: the INS Rahav, the INS Tanin, the INS Leviathan, the INS Dolphin and the INS Tekumah. The INS Dragon is expected to be delivered in early 2020.
According to foreign reports, these submarines provide Israel with nuclear second-strike capabilities, carrying long-range cruise missiles which, according to the foreign reports, can be equipped with nuclear warheads.
New submarines that will not reach Israel’s coast for another decade are expected to replace the older Dolphins at a combined cost of NIS five billion ($1.3b.). Israel is highly dependent on the sea, with over 90% of imports arriving via the sea; and while the country’s navy is relatively small compared to other IDF corps, it has had a significant amount of territory to protect ever since the expansion of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone years ago, from 40 miles to 150 miles from.
And with a growing dependence on the sea, the navy is growing in importance.
“The navy is very important for Israel’s security. The navy’s area of responsibilities has increased and therefore [there has also been] a change in the number and type of threats we face and need to be prepared for,” said Lt.-Col. Avi Avsker, commander of the navy’s missile boat training school.
“The navy has to secure all of Israel’s strategic interests at sea – be they in the north, the south or elsewhere, whether criminal or terror,” he said.
“We train for now and for the future,” Avsker said, adding that the simulators, used from basic training through operational missions, allow “troops to train for real-life missions, including extreme missions.”
The mission of the navy’s missile boats is to fight the enemy fleet in wartime, sink enemy ships, prevent Israel’s enemies from blocking its sea routes, and assist ground forces with incursions into enemy territory.
“The ability to stay relevant is most challenging; we need to stay up to date,” he said, explaining that with the new submarines and missile ships expected to dock in Israeli ports, every simulator needs to stay updated to relevant ships and threats.
In addition to the new submarines, Israel is expected to get four new Sa’ar 6-class warships; the first is expected to arrive at the end of the year, and the last by 2021.
The new Sa’ar 6 warships are set to defend Israel’s strategic maritime assets, such as the country’s offshore natural gas reserves, as well as maintain Israel’s sovereignty in the near and far seas, destroying the enemy’s war fleets and significantly contributing to complex and secret missions in the IDF’s Campaign Between the Wars.
JUST AS new ships are expected to dock in the coming years, cadets will get new simulators on which to train.
The instructors for the simulators, who are busy day and night training troops, “need to know what the cadets know and more,” St.-Sgt. Noam Amir, commander of instructor training, told the Post.
Amir explained that the instructors go through intensive training on the simulators, spending a year training to know the simulators inside-out and serving 32 months in the military.
“There are no soldiers in the navy who don’t work with the instructors. The instructors need to give their stamp of approval for everyone before they head out on the ships,” she said, explaining that instructors also spend a month at sea with their students.
St.-Sgt. Roni Patury, commander of the Gesher (Bridge) simulator, told the Post that four simulator instructors, all women, teach close to 100 cadets, either one-on-one or in small groups.
Cadets spend three to four months with Patury and her fellow instructors – at the beginning of their time in the navy’s officer’s course, at the advanced stage of training and during their academic stage.
At almost two-and-a-half years long, the IDF’s Naval Officer’s Course is one of the most intensive programs in the military. All cadets go through rigorous training; in the first stage of the course they undergo training to learn basic military skills as well as learning how to operate small sea vessels.
Following their basic training, cadets get divided into four different areas of expertise – submarines, sailing, machinery or electronics, which will correspond to their posts following graduation. During their advanced training, cadets also undergo a diving course to become two-star divers able to dive to depths of up to 30 meters. The next stage in the course lasts about eight months, where the cadet undergoes practical and theoretical training in a designated position aboard ship.
The simulator she trains cadets on allows them to learn how to navigate on the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the technical part of navigating in and out of ports, including when there are threats to the ships such as enemy submarines.
“It’s not a pass-or-fail type of scenario; that test is at sea. We are here to prepare them for that,” she said.