Tens of thousands of sorties are flown in Israeli Air Force simulators. Arie Egozi was granted special access to the training airbase, including a conversation with BGen Amnon Ein-Dar, Head of the Training and Doctrine Division.

Early this year, the canopy of an Israeli Air Force (IAF) F15 flew off when the aircraft was at 30,000 feet. The pilot and weapon systems operator managed to bring the damaged aircraft to a safe landing in a base in southern Israel. This after being exposed to extreme temperatures.

LtCol ‘R’, commander of the IAF’s connected simulators squadron, remarked: “They knew exactly what to do because they have been trained again and again in our advanced simulators.”

During a rare visit to the IAF’s connected simulators facility in the Hazor airbase (also known as Hatzor), I was able to briefly observe the uniqueness of this special squadron that has a major role in making IAF combat pilots among the best in the world.

Consolidated MTC

The mission training center (MTC) at Hazor was opened in 2013, after a decision to concentrate all combat simulators in one place. Each of the IAF’s fighter aircraft has a dedicated simulator – F15C, F15I, F16 and F16I. The single simulators are operated in front of a 180-degree visual dome, while the connected simulators that simulate real combat missions are operated in a 360-degree dome.

“We have here two types of simulators,” the commander noted, “one that helps the pilots to learn about the aircraft they fly and a mission simulator.”

The combat pilots begin to train in the simulators center immediately after they finish their initial training and get to their specific squadrons.

LtCol R. said that the connected simulators save at least 14% of flight hours.

“The simulator instructors are, in many ways, responsible for the future of the IAF's preparedness,” said BGen Amnon Ein-Dar, Head of Training and Doctrine Division. “Aviation is dangerous and expensive, and so increasing the scope of the force's simulative training is the direction we're headed in. Advanced technology and high-quality personnel will help us get very far.”

According to Tal Levy, senior director, fighter and rotary training solutions for Elbit systems, the MTC consists of eight simulation stations from the “Blue” squadron and two for the “Red” simulating the enemy. The Elbit official added that “this unique simulator enables them to simulate situations that cannot be simulated in real flying”.

Different simulation cockpits are rolled in and out according to the specific training session.

Levy said the MTC is based on a very advanced “arena generator” that is being updated continuously according to enemy capabilities and threats.

Last year, tens of thousands of sorties were held in the IAF's simulator centers. Each simulator center trains thousands of aircrew members, RPAV (remotely piloted aerial vehicle) operators, air traffic controllers and air defense combatants.

The MTC was upgraded last year to incorporate F15 training. The “Baz” (F15) and “Ra'am” (F15I) integration process was led by the IAF's Flight Test Squadron.

The IAF sees the F15 as its main tool. This is why they may delay the acquisition of a third F35 squadron in favor of a fast purchase of additional new versions of the F15. According to sources close to the issue, while the F35 can perform best when its stealth feature is essential, in later phases of combat the need is for other aircraft with advanced avionics that can operate in conjunction with the F35 and carry heavy loads of weapons.

The Lavi simulator features a dome visual system, simulation of weapons systems, and computer generated friendly forces and foes. Image credit: IAF.
The Lavi simulator features a dome visual system, simulation of weapons systems, and computer generated friendly forces and foes. Image credit: IAF.

Elbit-Leonardo-CAE-Selex GBTS

While the MTC is the peak of the IAF’s simulation infrastructure, in recent years other building blocks have been added.

In 2016, Elbit Systems completed delivery of the ground-based training system (GBTS) for the M346 Lavi trainer aircraft. This comprehensive training solution was selected to qualify pilots and weapon systems operators to progress directly to fourth and fifth generation fighter aircraft.

Elbit Systems is the prime contractor, and it developed the GBTS with Leonardo, CAE and Selex ES following a selection by TOR - Advanced Flight Training, a jointly owned company of Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

The development of the M346 simulator for the IAF enabled Elbit to win a contract from the Polish Air Force (PLAF). Featuring a 360-degree display system, which provides high-fidelity air-to-air and air-to-ground mission training experience, the interconnected simulators enable both pilot and formation training in the same facility. Allowing real flight experience with no safety limitations, the Elbit training solution enables PLAF cadets to acquire skills ranging from basic familiarity with the aircraft to top-level combat flight competence in complex arenas.

Elbit says that the infrastructure will enable the M346 simulators to interconnect with the future PLAF F16 Mission Training Center for combined mission training.

Elbit Systems has completed the first phase of a next-generation development, linking two air training simulators, in remote locations, via a cloud-based simulation environment by providing a common synthetic natural environment (SNE). The capability allows a ‘commonality of services’ where connected trainers use common services and standard protocols to consume services from the secure cloud by designing the simulation federation environment. It currently allows two devices (in this instance more than 50 km apart) to interact within the private cloud-based synthetic environment in real time, in addition to a man in the loop role player station.

The IAF has enhanced the capabilities of its M346 Lavi trainers by adding external fuel tanks. The tanks became feasible after the software blocks of the advanced trainer were upgraded based on a series of test flights. The Lavi is also now equipped with live bombs, which enhances the effect of air-ground mission training sessions.

The IAF has also decided to equip all its fighter aircraft with the IAI EHUD air combat manouvering instrumentation (ACMI) system to allow complicated training scenarios with the M346 trainers. (See “Embracing the Virtual” in MS&T Issue 6, 2019.)

The Israeli Air Force has had female pilots for more than two decades, and last year named its first female squadron leader. Women also serve as simulator instructors, following eight months of specialised training. Image credit: IAF.
The Israeli Air Force has had female pilots for more than two decades, and last year named its first female squadron leader. Women also serve as simulator instructors, following eight months of specialised training. Image credit: IAF.

Constantly Changing Enemy

Throughout 2018, half of the IAF's flight hours were training-related, and thousands of hours of aerial training were clocked.

“The enemy continues to progress, both in technology and in force operation. They are becoming more and more up to date as time goes by, and the variety of tools at their disposal is challenging,” emphasized Col ‘A’, Head of the Training Department. “As a result, the IAF continues to advance and develop. We are planning our training so as to be able to handle a constantly changing enemy. Our training program focuses on activity during times of uncertainty – that is, operation in a theatre in which we don't exactly know how the hostile forces operate. We need to know how to adjust to a situation in real-time.”

Halfway through 2018, service members from IAF HQ and the force's various airbases sat alongside department heads to decide the training emphasis in 2019. The decision rose from the understanding that these officers are the most connected to operations in the field.

Another part of the IAF's future preparation was a situation assessment with future predictions to 2023. Col A stated: “We need to adjust the threats we drill according to the threats we face in reality. We are due to upgrade our means of instruction, which include enemy simulation, flight simulators and training systems installed inside the aircraft.”

“We are integrating the ‘Adir’ (F35I) aircraft in flight, briefing and debriefing alongside fourth-generation jets and communicating our knowledge to various units in the IAF in order to maximize the use of its capabilities,” Col A noted.

The pilots of the IAF F35 are using an advanced mission simulator installed at the Nevatim airbase. This simulator was supplied by Lockheed Martin with the dome made by Rockwell Collins (now Collins Aerospace).

Originally published in Issue 3, 2019 of MS&T Magazine.