Dozens of Israel Air Force cadets will receive their officer’s ranks on Tuesday at Hatzerim Air Force Base, in a ceremony that occurs every year – though this year’s new pilots are different.These members of the 170th IAF training course are the first to have trained on the M-346 Master training jet, which is dubbed the Lavi (Hebrew for Lion) in the IAF.Maj. Erez, the deputy commander of the Hatzerim training squadron, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the new plane undoubtedly enables the cadets to come better prepared for advanced surface-to-air missiles, hostile aircraft, and other threats in the possession of foes like Hezbollah, the Assad regime in Syria, and Iran.Produced by Italian aerospace manufacturers Alenia Aermacchi, the Lavi entered IAF service in January, and has transformed combat flight training programs.“It definitely improves the pilots’ ability to deal with these kinds of threats,” Erez said. “We can train them in the air in a realistic way. This is something we could not do with the Skyhawk or the F-16A,” he stated.“The Lavi simulates the most advanced F-16. And from the perspective of concepts and techniques, it even touches on the F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter), though it is not a stealth aircraft,” he added.The air force cadets have completed the first of three phases involving flights in the Lavi, Maj. Erez said. “The Lavi is much more advanced than the Skyhawk and the F-16A in every way. We were concerned that the cadets would struggle to control the large number of displays, or struggle to deal with the plane’s aerodynamics. But they cruised right through it,” Erez said. “These cadets don’t feel the change, because they’ve never seen a Skyhawk.”When the new fighter pilots reach their squadrons, they may even be disappointed to learn that flying their new planes won’t feel much better than flying the Lavi, Eretz stated.“The Lavi provides an aerodynamic experience that is like no other. It is perfect, truly an amazing platform,” he said.Flight instructors in their 50s and 60s have also had to learn to fly the new plane and master its advanced electronics.The IAF’s training program is structured to gradually increase the ability of flight cadets to deal with threats and carry out missions. At first, they learn how to engage a single hostile aircraft, then they train in combat against multiple enemy jets. The cadets train in how to cope with surface-to-air missile, which are possessed by Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran.“Now, they are after six months of Lavi training flights. They learned how to deal with one plane in air-toair combat. They also tasted what it’s like to engage two fighter jets. If I tell them to go bring down a plane, they know how to do that. In terms of air to ground strikes, as a single plane, they can locate a target and bomb it in a standard way, assuming there is no interference or attempts to harm them on the way,” Erez said.In the next, year-long stage, the cadets will begin simulating real-life situations. Over the coming year, they will learn how to fly in pairs, act as wing men, and shoot down multiple enemy aircraft. Their air-to-ground attack capabilities will grow, as will their ability to defend themselves.Finally, in a third, six-month phase, Erez said, the pilots will undergo operational training.“I will upload operational situations for them to deal with,” he explained.“I’ll teach them how to defend Israel’s skies, which is their mission. We will practice a range of scenarios, like intercepting a hijacked passenger plane, or intercepting Syrian jets that have come to bomb Tel Aviv. They will simulate long-range attacks involving lengthy flight times, and hitting targets that are very distant, before coming back safe and sound.“We do this under controlled conditions. When they get to their squadrons, the time they will need for further training will decrease, as a result of their preparations here.”The last six-month stage involves all forms of fighter jet training: flying with other aircraft, flying alone, carrying out virtual missions, and flying in a simulator.“I inject scenarios into their on board computers from the ground. We start by using the simulator, and we can stop the training to study what happened, and then continue. This saves flight hours. By the time they embark on their first and second sorties, they already understand what is going on. Before the simulators, the cadets would often experience a bit of shock on their first and second sorties. Now, we bypass that,” said Eretz.Lt. Itay is one of the trainees who will receive his officer’s rank on Tuesday and is a member of the first group of air force cadets trained on the M-346.“As cadets, we are very pleased with the Lavi,” he told the Post. “We are training the fundamentals – dog fights against one or two foes, a variety of ground attacks, and navigation. I can’t compare the Lavi with the Skyhawk, since I’ve never flown in one. It is a fighter jet in every way. I can experience its power during maneuvers. It has very high capabilities,” he said.