In the face of a growing anti-aircraft missile threat in the region, the IAF will soon start using a new virtual training system for its pilots to practice evading heat-seeking Iranian and Syrian missiles. Until now, the IAF has trained its pilots to deal with the anti-aircraft threat by activating its actual air defense systems and having them lock on to the training fighter jets, but this was deemed expensive and ineffective. "The best way to train for this threat would be to have a real missile fired at you," explained a senior IAF officer. "But that is obviously impossible." Instead, with the new virtual trainer, the pilot will fly in Israeli airspace and see missiles being fired at him in his helmet's heads-up display. If the plane is "hit," the pilot will then see a sign indicating that the plane is "destroyed." The advantage of the new system is that it allows pilots to train for a wide range of threats, including shoulder-to-air missiles and some of the most advanced Russian-made air defense systems in Syria and Iran's arsenals. Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, is believed to possess a number of shoulder-to-air missiles. Hizbullah is also known to have shoulder-to-air missiles. However, the IAF's greatest challenge is in Iran, which is working to obtain the S-300, one of the most advanced surface-to-air missile 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 which it bought from Russia. In addition, the IAF is in the process of building a new "squadron" of simulators. The unit will be based in the Hatzor IAF Base, which is already home to four simulators, for the F-16, F-16I, F15 and F-15I. It will be commanded by a lieutenant-colonel and will eventually include a fifth group of simulators, developed by Elbit Systems, which will have eight seats for F-16 pilots. "With eight simulators, pilots will be able to train flying in larger formations," the senior officer explained. On Sunday, the Defense Ministry announced the winners of this year's Defense Prize, which will be awarded during a ceremony at Beit Hanassi on Tuesday. The ministry did not provide details on the systems that received the award. One team - made up of representatives from the Home Front Command, the Ground Forces Command, Rafael and the Defense Ministry's Research and Development Directorate (MAFAT) - received the award for developing an early-warning system used to warn of Kassam rocket attacks. The system was first activated in 2004 and has been used along the Gaza and northern borders. "It can be said for certain that this system succeeded in saving peoples' lives," said a Defense Ministry statement. A second prize was awarded to a team made up of representatives from MAFAT, the Prime Minister's Office, the IAF, Military Intelligence and the civilian company Vision Map for developing a system "in a short period of time," and at low cost, which "surpassed standard operational achievements." While no information about the system was provided, Vision Map is a company that develops digital mapping systems. According to its Web site, "Our technology empowers aerial survey providers to fly at higher altitudes and to acquire larger areas - without compromising on high resolution and high accuracy photogrammetric products. Our integral, fully automatic and highly efficient processing system enables mapping providers to deliver top-grade products in less time and with substantial reduction in operational and processing costs."