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When RPAV Operators Become Infantrymen Release date 25.01.2018
Instead of a routine reserve service day in their squadron, IAF RPAV Operators became infantrymen for a day
Yael Fuchs

The IDF Infantry Brigades’ cooperation with the IAF RPAV (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicle) Division is growing rapidly - the aircraft in the sky create an intelligence situation report which is communicated to the forces in the field in real time. IAF RPAV Operators perform these missions from mission stations positioned in Air Force Bases, but their aircraft fly alongside combatants in the field. Last week, a squadron that operates the Hermes 450 RPAV from Palmahim AFB performed a “Reversed Exercise”. In this unique exercise, instead of arriving at the squadron for a routine reserve service day, the squadron’s reserve operators became infantrymen for a day.


Photography: Koral Dvir

The operators performed infantry missions while receiving information and support from their squadron’s aircraft. “Today, we will simulate ground forces in combat”, began Lt. Col. R', the Squadron Commander. “It is important that we become acquainted with the other side and experience the operational activity performed by the combatants we will work with in real time”.

As part of the exercise, the operators were divided into two teams: one simulated a hostile cell that had captured an Israeli soldier and scattered IEDs throughout the area. The other team simulated a group of combatants whose main goal was to save the abducted soldier and destroy the IEDs.


Photography: Koral Dvir

Planning An Offensive
When the exercise began, the operators began by appointing roles: the forces' commander in the field, a war room coordinator and a controller who is responsible for relaying the information from the commander to the RPAV operator. Later in the exercise, the forces were asked to create and relay information to the RPAV operator – they received maps of the area and were instructed to put an aircraft in the air in order to provide an updated image of the field and assist the ground forces. 

After assigning positions and generating information, the operators prepared to decide on their mode of operation, course and strategy – all this while adapting to the new ground mindset. "When devising a plan, we usually consider the bigger picture. This time, we had to consider different factors as well, such as the enemy's location and the threats we faced", described Maj. (Res') A', an operator in the squadron. "Operating in the battlefield itself instead of above it is challenging. It took us a while to devise an optimal action plan that we could all agree on".


Photography: Koral Dvir

Field Work
The teams are ready, each one equipped with laser guns and gear. The IEDs are in their places and the RPAVs are in the air. The exercise began when the first team entered enemy territory, where the "Red" force awaited with a plan of its own.

At the same time, Lt. Col. (Res') M' sat in the mission station and searched for the IEDs set up by the hostile forces while in communication with the war room coordinator. "We are seated in a mobile mission station, which enables us to operate the RPAV from a shorter, more efficient range", explained Lt. Col. (Res') M'. He cuts his explanation short when he notices an IED on a structure's roof. He relays this information to the war room coordinator, who sends the operators to the location.


Photography: Koral Dvir

Through Different Eyes
The operators had to continue the mission despite challenges in the field. "There's a feeling of uncertainty. When you're in the field, things look different – you don't have the full image like you do as an RPAV operator", said Capt. D', an RPAV operator in the squadron. "You have to be careful and cover for your teammates – each situation requires your full attention".

When the exercise ended, the operators sat down together and debriefed the exercise. “If in the past I saw things from the sky and didn’t understand why the ground forces were doing them, I now understand things differently”, shared Maj. (Res’) A’. “Next time I cooperate with IDF ground forces, it will be easier for me to understand their challenges and limitations and operate accordingly”.