IDF turns to biofeedback to help soldiers, pilots control stress

Senior IDF officer says system allows soldiers to learn how to control their reactions in the future.

soldiers 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
soldiers 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
IDF elite units and Israel Air Force pilots have recently begun training with a new stress-measurement system that helps improve the subject's level of concentration in tense and stressful situations. Several of the systems - called biofeedback - were recently purchased by the IDF Mental Health Department, run by Col. Gadi Lubin. They are already in use in the IAF to help sharpen fighter pilots' skills. A non-medical process, biofeedback measures a subject's blood pressure, heart rate, skin temperature, sweat gland activity and muscle tension while the subject is simulating tense circumstances. It then transmits the information to the patient in real-time, enabling the subject to potentially control those functions and lower the level of anxiety and stress. "This can significantly improve a soldier's level of concentration," a senior IDF officer explained Tuesday. "By becoming aware of the way you react under stress, you can learn to control the way you will react in the future." High concentration levels are important for a wide range of scenarios in the military, from a soldier laying an ambush, to a fighter pilot flying in enemy airspace under anti-aircraft fire. "The biofeedback system is suitable for all kinds of soldiers, from elite units to regular combat soldiers who suffer from stress," the officer explained. The biofeedback system, which costs several thousand shekels a unit, is being used in the IAF for pilots who are also training with a new virtual reality system to practice evading heat-seeking missiles in the hands of the Syrian military. 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 also not effective. Instead, with the new virtual trainer, the pilot will lift off, fly in Israeli airspace and see in his helmet's display missiles being fired at him. If the plane is hit, the pilot will get a signal indicating that the plane is "destroyed." The advantage of the new system is that it allows pilots to train under a wide range of threats, including shoulder-to-air missiles and some of the most advanced Russian-made air defense systems that are in Syria's arsenal.