In the face of a growing anti-aircraft and ballistic missile threat against Israel, the IAF plans to conduct special seminars to prepare pilots and ground crews for future conflicts, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The seminar will first be held for pilots who, in a future conflict with Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria or Iran, are expected to have to deal with an unprecedented number of surface-to-air missiles, most of them Russian-made.
Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, is believed to have a number of shoulder-to-air missiles. Hizbullah is also known to have shoulder-to-air missiles and Israel is concerned that Syria may transfer advanced missile systems to the Lebanese group.
The IAF's greatest challenge, though, is in Iran, which is working to obtain the S-300, one of the most advanced air defense systems in the world.
The S-300 has a reported ability to track up to 100 targets simultaneously while engaging up to 12 at the same time. It has a range of about 200 kilometers and can hit targets at altitudes of 90,000 feet.
Iran already has TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles that it bought from Russia.
The mental preparation will not be limited to pilots; the seminar will also be held for ground crews stationed at IAF bases, which all currently fall within the range of Hizbullah and Hamas missiles.
"We need to strengthen the human factor in the air force so they are prepared for all these different possibilities," a senior IAF officer said Wednesday.
The seminar, planned by Brig.-Gen. Nimrod Shefer, head of the Air Division, will run simulations and focus on crisis management.
In addition, the IAF has recently started using a virtual reality system for its pilots to practice evading heat-seeking missiles.
Until now, the IAF has trained its pilots to deal with the anti-aircraft threat by activating its own air defense system, including the Hawk missile, and having it lock on to the training fighter jets. This was deemed expensive and ineffective.
In related news, in an effort to increase its intelligence-gathering capabilities, the IAF will in the coming months establish a new squadron of Heron TP Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), called the Eitan, manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries.
The Heron TP is the largest Israeli UAV, with a 26-meter long wingspan, the same length as a Boeing 737. It weighs 4,650 kilograms and can fly at an altitude of up to 45,000 feet.
The Heron TP is capable of reaching Iran and, according to Defense News, is capable of carrying more than a ton of weapons as well as specialized sensors, electronic warfare and targeting gear in its forward section, its principal payload bay and on each tail of its twin boom.