The IDF has for the first time designated specific helicopter squadrons to operate under the command of infantry brigade commanders, as part of lessons learned from the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead.
According to a senior officer in the Ground Forces Command, the first units to receive the squadrons were the Golani and Paratroopers brigades. The plan, the officer said, is to assign additional squadrons to other infantry brigades, such as Givati and Nahal.
Under the new hierarchical system, the commander of the IAF squadron approves his orders through the brigade commander and not like the way it used to be - through the IAF.
"It is as if the brigade commander has another battalion under his command to utilize," the officer said. The squadrons assigned to the brigades consist of Apache and Cobra attack helicopters.
This type of setup exists in the United States Army, where field commanders are also allocated air platforms, such as fighter jets and attack helicopters. Due to its relatively small air force and wide spectrum of missions, the IDF has until now kept its air force completely separate from its ground forces when it comes to the chain of command, even during joint operations.
The major change occurred during the operation in the Gaza Strip earlier this year, during which brigade and in some cases battalion commanders were given the authority to give direct orders to pilots who provided air support for troops on the ground.
The intimate relationship between field commanders and pilots was forged ahead of the operation, when brigade and battalion commanders were taken for flights in the attack helicopters to see what the battlefield looks like from a cockpit thousands of feet in the air.
The IAF has also deployed "air support officers" in each brigade, who are responsible for coordinating aerial and ground operations and ensuring that targeting mistakes are avoided. These officers are specially trained to understand both the language used by field commanders and pilots.
"Now that the sides know each other better, they know how to work better together as well," explained a top IAF officer, adding that such cooperation led to air bombings during Cast Lead that were very close to IDF ground troops.
"We are able to take greater risks with our air strikes, since we understand better what the field commanders are saying when describing to us where they are located," the officer continued. "We have reached the point that some of the pilots already understand the field commanders with the blink of an eye."