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International Commander Conference Release date 25.03.2018
10 base commanders from around the world participated in a first of its kind conference held in the IAF's Hatzerim AFB two weeks ago. The commanders worked together with the goal of mutual learning
Illy Pe'ery

Two weeks ago, an international commander conference was held in Hatzerim AFB featuring base commanders from Canada, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, India and Israel. The conference was led by Brig. Gen. Avshalom, Commander of Hatzerim AFB. The commanders discussed challenges and mutual solutions, learning from each other's work.

"In the Israeli Air Force, we believe in what we do and believe that we do it well. However, we appreciate the ability to learn from each other, and believe that there are more similarities between us and the other air forces than there are differences", said Brig. Gen. Avshalom at the beginning of the conference.

Photography: Koral Dvir

Around the World
The conference began with a conversation where each commander provided an overview of the base under his command, elaborating on topics ranging from maintenance and operations to personnel. Differences were clear from the beginning, when Canadian Col. Paul Doyle, 4 Wing Commander, displayed the map of the base under his command showed that the airbase was larger than the entirety of the state of Israel.

"The airbases in Canada are isolated – you have to drive for four hours to get to the nearest central city. We're pretty much invisible for the Canadian population", said Col. Doyle. "Unlike Israel, we don't handle day-to-day threats such as missile salvos or terrorist organizations and the Canadian Air Force isn't a main part of the news. Our main challenge is getting people to enlist and making them stay".

Photography: Koral Dvir

In Israel, military service is mandatory – men serve for two years and eight months and women serve for two years. However, in the international air forces, service isn't mandatory and duration of service is much longer. "Every year, 500 new service members arrive at the base and leave after three years. We face a never-ending challenge and the duration of mandatory service is getting shorter and shorter", elaborated Brig. Gen. Avshalom.

Col. Tejpal Singh, the Indian military attaché in Israel, added: "You sign up for 20 years of service after graduating from your flight course. We have no problem with conscription – teens line up to try out for the flight academy. The challenge comes after 20 years, when the officers become colonels and have to decide whether they should stay in the military or begin work at a civilian airline with three times the pay".

Photography: Koral Dvir

The Value of Reservists
After the conversation, the commanders underwent a tour of Hatzerim AFB, as part of which they visited a HAS (Hardened Aircraft Shelter) at the 69th ("Hammers") Squadron, which operates the "Ra'am" (F-15I) aircraft. They also visited a "Lavi" (M-346) advanced training aircraft simulator as well as the 107th ("Knights of the Orange Tail") Squadron, which operates the "Sufa" (F-16I) aircraft. Lt. Col. M', the squadron's commander, provided an overview of the squadron's activity and capabilities, and later spoke of the challenges he faced and showed the base commanders a small part of what it means to command a squadron in Israel.

"Reservists are very valuable for the IAF", elaborated Lt. Col. M'. "In a number of hours, 25-year old pilots who have just finished their operational training will sit in the same room with reservists. A young pilot will sit beside an aircrew member who serves in the IAF Headquarters and a doctor in reserve service who had just gotten out of the operating room".

Photography: Celia Garion

Day-to-day Threats
The second day of the visit focused on operational content. First, the base commanders received an overview of the Gaza Strip. Afterwards, the commanders visited an "Iron Dome" interception battery in Ashkelon as well as an RPAV (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicle) squadron operating "Hermes 450" and "Kochav" (Hermes 900) aircraft.

Seeing as some of the countries do not face threats on a daily basis like Israel, the operational dialogue played a significant part in the conference. Col. Avshalom elaborated, saying that a central challenge in the Middle East is trying to identify the relevant theatres for combat and preparing accordingly. Lt. Col. M' added: "In the IAF, every pilot is a commander, when your commander isn't with you during an operational mission, you're the only one who can make decisions. Alertness and precision have to be at a much higher level than they are during routine activity".