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24/7: The IAF’s Operational HQ Release date 15.07.2018
Throughout the last 24 hours, the IAF led a wide scale attack on dozens of terror targets in Gaza. Who controls the IAF’s operations? What changes is the IAF going through in the field of control? What does the control station look like during operational activity? The IAF Site shows you the IAF’s Main Control Unit that works 24/7 underground
Eitam Almadon

“During the last several months, we have been preparing alongside the Southern Command for a possible escalation in the southern theatre with a variety of targets”, said Col. Tomer this morning (Sunday), Head of the Participation Department in the Air Operations Directorate. “There are surprising targets, including terror tunnels, the battalion headquarters in Beit Lahia, in which we attacked 20 different targets and a 5-story building belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization in central Gaza. The attack was conducted during the day and numerous squadrons from different divisions participated using over 100 munitions. This doesn't display the full capacity of our strength for the next war. We operated professionally for over 24 hours in the Underground Operational Headquarters and in the control stations, and we are prepared with many more significant targets”.

 

Unprecedented Operational Activity
Deep underground, a long maze of hallways leads to the Underground Operational HQ - the IAF’s control center. A sharp turn in one of the hallways leads to the control stations, from which the IAF manages and monitors its operational activity. The place is manned 24/7, 365 days a year, and is used as the entire IAF’s command center. This is where the MCU (Main Control Unit) is located, which is part of the Air Operations Directorate. At all times, its members monitor and control the operating forces. The unit is the IDF’s core of operational activity and the amount of operations it has led in recent years is unprecedented.

The control team is built of many of the Operational Headquarters’ service members: a control station commander, who is also the controller, officers from the planning divisions, officers from the Intelligence Directorate, Aerial and Ground Control officers, Electronic Warfare officers, meteorologists and communication and computers officers. The team controls the IAF’s operational missions. Recently, the MCU was awarded the IDF Chief of Staff Award of Excellence for Combat Support Units. Col. G’, commander of the unit, talked about the recent period that has been busy with operations and about the adrenaline rush felt in the control station during operational activity.

Deep Underground
The strategies developed by the IAF require a main control unit in order to achieve maximized efficiency. The main control is the ability to control every aerial mission flexibly and continuously using the control chain.

“As opposed to the different IDF arms, in which operational activity is commanded over with regional commands, the IAF uses the MCU”, explained Col. G’. “In the rest of the arms, instructions are passed on to the commands, from the commands to the divisions and then operated in the field. The IAF plans its operations using the Operational Headquarters’ planning departments alongside the intelligence departments. From there, the orders are transferred to the field units and to the control center. There are control stations targeted at synchronizing the operated forces while incorporating the different platforms with intelligence in real time”.

Besides controlling the IAF’s operational activity, the MCU has additional missions, such as maintaining the IAF’s entire headquarters, operating the forecast center and being responsible for the entire IAF’s field of operations. This includes all operational orders, communication with the field, battle preparation and real-time control in the MCU alongside the IAF Commander, who commands over the operational activity.

The IAF’s operational process is divided into three different parts that complete each other: intelligence, planning and control. Commanders from the planning division, which are part of the Air Operations Directorate, plan the operation relying on intelligence, write out the operational orders and transfer them to the operational factors such as the squadrons, ATC (Air Traffic Control) Division and the relevant control members. The control teams, led by the control station commanders, are the ones that operate the planned out operations and handle both the planned and unplanned events.

 

“From The IAF Commander to the Cockpit”
The IAF’s mission of control has always been complex, and in recent years has become even more complex. “Today, the theatre is very complex and constantly evolving, and includes many countries that are in contact with us and are aware of the occurring in our close surroundings”, said Col. G’. “Every action of ours can turn into tactical operational activity. The way we perform operational activity has strategical consequences on the IAF’s area of action in the theatre. We are required to identify this in real-time and to correctly instruct the forces in the field in order to prevent unwanted processes”.

“We are responsible for communication between the IAF Commander and the pilot in the cockpit. We need to ensure that the IAF Commander’s policies are implemented into the cockpit, even if reality in the theatre creates scenarios that we did not prepare for. What separates us from the pilot in the cockpit is that we work with intelligence information, aerial pictures and strategical communication with various partners. Therefore, we take in consideration the entire picture and direct the aircrew members to operate appropriately”.

The MCU’s main mission is to control defense events in the airspace and the borders. “The events are short and require the control station commander to make quick decisions. Our country is small and its surroundings are heated, therefore choosing which targets to focus on is challenging. No other country in the world defends its airspace like Israel. Last year we handled active defense events mainly near Gaza, intercepting rockets and other threats. We prepare a control station with relevant people for these situations”.

Alpha in the Headquarters
The information received from aircrew members in the cockpit or from the control station commanders makes the chain very efficient and understandable. In 2017, an operational control doctrine took effect in order to further improve the control chain. It contains a variety of principals that will act as a “code” for the IAF’s operational performance in the next 5 years.

“Different forms of control were updated as part of the new control doctrine. This allows every mission to be controlled differently while staying related to the control doctrine. Part of our job is to adjust the form of control to the mission”, added Col. G’.

Although being far from the mission performance, the MCU members feel the adrenaline in the control station. “The adrenaline in the field is obvious and doesn’t require explaining. Here, the adrenaline is different – you could be in a standard meeting when suddenly alerted. You then go into the control station and make decisions regarding launching munitions. The responsibility of being the on call IAF Commander is very stressful. When the operational activity ends, you do not return to the HAS (Hardened Aircraft Shelter) and rest. You go into another meeting, with your heart still racing as if you’re someplace else”.