Tel Nof Air Base, central Israel, Tuesday: A siren wailed through the base, as soldiers, technicians, ground crews, and pilots scrambled, honing their responses to a mock air assault on this strategic target south of the city of Rehovot.It was only a drill, but an important one, simulating a full-scale conflict on the northern front.The drill enabled the base’s munition assembly crews to practice their critical role in any future war: putting together guided bomb kits and churning out hundreds of the precision- guided weapons per day.“This is an assembly line, producing bombs,” a senior IAF officer from the Technical Branch said.In any conflict, the F-15 fighter jets that operate out of Tel Nof would seek to take off several times a day and shoulder their burden in the air force’s goal of firing thousands of precision- guided bombs at enemy targets a day, every day.
(Photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT) At that rate, within a few days, thousands of Hezbollah targets would be in flames, provided that sufficient intelligence exists on that many targets.Targets are marked out before the eruption of hostilities, and the database can grow during the fighting as well.“We want to attack as many targets as possible in as little time as possible.Thousands of targets. In 24 hours, we can send thousands of bombs from Israel, each one weighing a ton,” the officer added.Next to him, soldiers from various Technical Branch units, wearing colored vests and the names of their roles printed across them, worked swiftly.They moved MK-84 bombs (dubbed “heavy hail” in the IAF) on forklifts to an assembly table and installed guidance systems onto the bombs.They can produce hundreds of joint direct attack munitions. “They are safeguarding their operational readiness,” the source said. Each bomb, which contains a 430-kilogram warhead, can level a high-rise building.“If we drop thousands of bombs like these, there isn’t a state that would not surrender. This is the firepower of world powers,” the source stated.
(Photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT) During the exercise, the bombs underwent a rapid q u a l i t y assessment test to ensure that they function correctly.Those that pass receive a small smiley sticker, indicating that the munitions are ready for use.“Operation Protective Edge [in Gaza 2014] was not a test for us. Israel can take far more bombs of these kinds and deliver them to targets,” the source said, adding that modern guidance systems can take bombs to within a meter of their targets, from an altitude of 30,000 feet.Pre-prepared bombs can be quickly loaded onto the base’s two F-15 jet squadrons.The planes roared through the air as they took off in packs of four, drilling intensive air strike missions this week, practicing a hastened takeoff, strike and landing procedure.“This is a new capability that we have developed over the past four to five years,” said the officer. “The bottleneck used to revolve around preparing the right q u a n t i t y of bombs.Now, we have built a whole mechanism to churn out guided bombs,” he added.A second senior source, who is highly familiar with the IAF’s precision weapons systems, described the complex process that occurs in every bomb to cause the explosive material inside to go off.“It’s not easy to make this explode.The material inside is not easily triggered,” the source said. The IAF has become a world leader in developing electronic triggers that can enable pilots to detonate the bombs, or to program the munitions to go off at various stages of the journey to the target. This enables the IAF to choose whether to penetrate a target before setting off the bomb, blowing it on impact, or explode over it to create a wider shock wave that can topple anything in its radius.The bomb’s ballistic angle, controlled by the guidance kit, enables pilots to choose whether to strike an entire building or merely the fourth floor, the source said.Meanwhile, a third senior officer said that the two F-15 squadrons are flying platforms that date back to the 1970s, but that only the exterior of the platforms are actually that old.“The avionics, communications, command and control, and mission capabilities are all in line with 2015,” the source said.The squadrons have two roles: to intercept hostile aircraft and launch air-to-ground strikes on enemy targets.Tel Nof’s F-15s struck some 1,000 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets during last year’s summer conflict in Gaza – around a fifth of all targets hit by Israel.Asked if the IAF would want to receive a new F-15 squadron, a possibility raised in talks between Israel and the US over the next decade’s defense package, the source said, “Everyone in the IAF would be glad to receive another F-15 squadron.”Tel Nof is also home to squadrons of Yasur (CH-53 Sikorsky) transport helicopters, which can refuel in midair and move around 50 soldiers in a single flight, and a squadron of Israel Aerospace Industries-made Heron TP reconnaissance drones.The drone is undergoing “massive development, both in terms of quantity and, especially, capabilities,” the source said. “We put everything that one can put on a drone on the Eitan,” the source said, using the IAF’s name for the Heron TP. “It does not get tired.”The high altitude, long-range drone can observe enemy targets from high up and act as a crucial intelligence tool, the source said.Asked to discuss the involvement of the Russian Air Force in Syria, the source said the arrival of the Russians represents the introduction of a “new and central player.We are interested in separation; a ‘live and let live’ approach.”The coordination mechanism between Israel and Russia, described by the source as a “primitive” setup, enables established telephone lines to be activated to deescalate if needed, though neither side seeks authorization from the other for its air activities in the region.In any potential conflict on the northern front, the goal will be to “activate the database of targets that is relevant. That is what we are preparing for in this drill,” the source said.Preparations include dealing with sophisticated Russian-made surface-to-air missile systems on the northern front that could bring down IAF aircraft.Hezbollah could also target Israeli air bases with its growing number of GPS-guided missiles and rockets.“I live on the assumption that I won’t have air defenses for our base, though I know that we do have them. The air force will protect me [from GPS-guided projectiles in the North],” the source said.“We know how to deal with these threats,” he said, while acknowledging that “the ease with which we can fly over enemy territory is changing [for the worse].”The IAF has been planning ways of flying through the area-denial anti-access bubble that the enemy is trying to set up on the northern front with Russian-made missile batteries.“We think we can deal with what we know exists. We can also strike from all sorts of ranges,” the source said, referring to long-range standoff munitions that would enable the jets to hit ground targets while staying out of range of the enemy’s missile batteries.Nevertheless, he said, the IAF does not intend to shy away from flying directly over the northern front wherever necessary, to provide close air support to any ground forces.“When they [the ground force] fight on the ground, our planes, helicopters, and drones will be with them,” the source said.