Tour of Israeli Electronic Warfare Squadron

Discussion in 'International Politics' started by Neil, Oct 2, 2010.

  1. Neil

    Neil Senior Member Senior Member

    Jun 23, 2010
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    It seems that the IDF has been opening up quite a few of its air bases to journalists lately, most likely as part of a message to Israel's neighbors. The latest is a look into Israel's Sky Crows squadron at Tel Nof Air Base:

    The Sky Crows Squadron is located on the far side of the Tel Nof Air Force Base not far from Rehovot. The headquarters are built like most squadron headquarters in the IAF – in the shape of a U – with offices lining both sides.
    All of the personnel wear jumpsuits even though they are not pilots, although some of them started off but did not finish the IAF’s elite pilots’ course.
    The importance of EW systems in the air force has grown tremendously in recent years as Israel’s enemies seek more and more advanced air defense systems. Iran is still working on convincing Russia to supply it with the S-300, one of the most advanced surface-to-air systems in the world. Syria recently received new Russian systems and Hizbullah and Hamas are believed to have a significant number of shoulder-to-air missiles.
    Any potential future Israeli operation in Syria, Lebanon, Iran or Gaza would require the activation of EW systems to ensure that IAF planes arrive at their destinations unharmed, are able to drop their bombs over their designated targets and return to their bases back home.
    THE IAF’s EW capabilities are split into two categories. The first is blocking communications and C4I systems. The second category is disrupting radar systems and preventing them from detecting and tracking incoming planes. As the squadron’s motto goes: "They shall not hear us; they shall not see us."
    The squadron, Oren says, relies on three main components – intelligence, technology and the men and women who operate the systems.
    The intelligence is provided by the IAF’s Intelligence Command which studies the air defense and radar systems in the hands of Israel’s enemies and relays the information to the squadron. Then, the Israeli defense industries enter the picture and in coordination with the squadron and the IAF’s Materiel Command develop the necessary systems. The technological capabilities are described as "top secret" and only a select few within the industries and IAF know exactly how they work.
    As Oren explains, even the closest of allies do not share information on each other’s EW systems. One example is Israel’s recent decision to purchase the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), which is a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet. Despite years of negotiations, Israel did not receive approval from the Pentagon to install its own EW systems on the plane in place of the US system. Instead, it can only attach the system as an "add-on" to the existing platforms.
    "Israel is considered a world superpower in the field of EW," Oren says.
    The decision to open up the squadron to the media was not made easily and had to be approved at the highest levels within the IDF. One of the considerations was the unit’s 40th anniversary since its establishment in 1970 as well as – like many stories coming out of the IDF – a means of bolstering Israel’s deterrence.
    The IAF’s EW systems are split into two subcategories – some are airborne and others are land-based in permanent installations. Oren’s squadron is responsible for the airborne equipment and his teams fly frequently on various missions – some involving fighter jets, some special operations behind enemy lines and some during routine sorties. Not much can be said about exactly what these officers currently do but some insight can be provided by looking at Israel’s past operations and wars.
    In the First Lebanon War in 1982, for example, the airborne EW systems were instrumental in sabotaging Syria’s air defense systems and providing the IAF with ultimate air superiority over Lebanon. In subsequent air battles, the IAF managed to shoot down dozens of Syrian fighter jets without losing a single plane.
    During the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead, the unit was again activated but this time mostly to break into Palestinian and Lebanese TV and radio channels to push anti-Hamas and anti-Hizbullah propaganda.
    "The bottom line is that the IAF’s EW capabilities are relevant in every theater of operations and on every front," Oren says. "There is no IAF operation that we are not part of – from special operations, to routine operations and all-out wars."
    A LOT of the unit’s work boils down to the intelligence it is provided ahead of a mission. While definitely focused on his missions, Oren always has Ron Arad on his mind. Arad, an IAF navigator, ejected over Lebanon in 1986 and is still missing in action.
    "We have to know exactly which radar there is, what frequency it is operating on and what time we need to hit it," Oren explains. "The price of a mistake is a plane detected and possibly a pilot getting shot down and having another Ron Arad on our hands."
    Oren’s unit can install systems in large aircraft like C-130 Hercules transport planes and this way provide coverage over a large area by disrupting many different systems at once. In addition, as a second layer of defense, each plane carries its own EW systems which are much more limited in their scope and range.
    "I can protect an entire area from a standoff position while a plane’s systems are good just for itself as another layer of self-defense," he says.
    The training in the unit is long and last a year and a half before operators are declared operation-ready. After basic training and studies that include learning about systems employed by the enemy, the operators spend an entire year learning how to use the Israeli EW systems.
    "There is a lot of pressure and a need for quick decisions and responses," the unit commander says."
    One operator is Lt. Tal, a 21-year-old female officer. "This job requires a lot of studying – just sitting and reading books on the systems," she says.
    As an EW operator, Oren believes in the school of thought which argues that Israel does not need to get overly excited by the possible delivery of the S-300, for example, to Iran. While Oren won’t comment, foreign media reports have speculated over the years that Israel has or is already developing an EW system that would succeed in neutralizing the advanced surface-to- air missile system.
    "We shouldn’t get stuck on one threat or another," he suggests.
    "The other side is constantly building up its capabilities and the IAF knows now and will know in the future how to provide a response to those threats."
    The advantage of using EW is that it is a soft-kill weapon and, unlike a bomb or missile, is not always even detected.

    As a junior EW operator, Oren participated in the bombing of Ahmed Jibril’s weapons storehouse along the Lebanese- Syrian border in the 1990s. His mission was to ensure that the Syrian air defense systems would not detect the IAF aircraft.
    He remembers his hands shaking aboard the EW aircraft as he worked to neutralize each radar.
    "There was a large group of air defense batteries," he recalls. "We activated the EW systems diligently and hit them hard with EW."

    Electronic warfare has been an essential part of Israel's independent warfighting capability, ever since the debacle that occured during the Yom Kippur War when the EW systems that the US was willing to supply Israel with failed them. This is what makes it all the more frustrating that a resolution was never reached for the installation of Israeli EW systems on Israel's F-35 fighters.

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