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IAF in Urban Warfare Release date 27.09.2018
Four years after Operation "Protective Edge", the IAF continues to prepare for urban warfare scenarios. How do you operate when the enemy can arrive at any place, at any time? How do aircraft work alongside the ground forces? And which efforts are made to prevent damage to uninvolved persons?
Nuphar Blitt

"In urban warfare, you don't fight enemy tanks and aircraft a mile away, but enemies hiding in the field. It's a war of the immediate present occurring in a narrow field of operation" – this is how Maj. A' tried to define urban warfare. Maj. A' is a member of the Air Support & Helicopter Division, as well as a WSO at the 107th ("Knights of the Orange Tail") Squadron which operates "Sufa" (F-16I) fighter jets.

Photography: Nir Ben-Yosef

Nowadays, urban warfare also includes the field of underground warfare. Combat occurs in various theatres and the enemy can arrive from anywhere. "We need to know how to achieve our mission goals in urban territory, all while facing certain limitations and maintaining pre-ordained policies", added Maj. A'.

Which limitations does warfare of this sort entail? "We don't want to harm innocent people or cause damage to buildings not used by the enemy – especially not medical centers, schools or mosques. In urban territory, the difference between these and the terror targets is only several meters", elaborated Maj. A'. "However, we still want to hit our targets. It requires us to be accurate and put in great efforts".

Archive Photo

The Key Word: Precision
One of the most prominent features of urban warfare is the importance of precise hits. "When targets are located in dense urban environments, the required level of precision rises significantly", explained Maj. T', Deputy Commander of the 109th ("Valley") Squadron which operates "Barak" (F-16C/D) fighter jets. "For example, if we aimed to damage a building used by the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip and something went wrong, there would have been strategic damage. There is no place for errors – the price of harming uninvolved persons is high".

An aerial photograph of a Hamas battalion headquarters in Beit Lahia bombed last July

In addition, fighting in urban warfare usually narrows down the range between ground forces and IAF aircraft, including fighter jets. "Fighter jets which drop heavy bombs can be just several hundred meters away", added Maj. T'. This requires the aircrew members, squadron members and members of the IAF Operational HQ to perform double checks on the target coordinates and the state of the munitions, all while monitoring the scenario as extensively as they can.

Aerial Assistance
Various IAF divisions take part in the mission of urban warfare – from attack helicopters, through RPAVs (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicles) to fighter jets. Each division has different policies regarding urban warfare according to munitions and terrain, among others. "In urban warfare, attack helicopters and RPAVs act as extra pairs of eyes, examining the area from above, relaying information and acting as an additional combative aspect utilized by the ground division commander. The ground division gives the aircraft orders when necessary, using their assistance and positioning them in the field according to the ground forces' location", described Maj. A'.

Photography: Celia Garion

"The fighter jets' advantage is the size of their munitions. They can destroy an entire house of hostiles firing at our forces. They attack larger structures, stronger enemies and underground targets, thus preparing the area for the ground forces", added Maj. A'. "In contrast, the attack helicopters are closer to the ground forces and provide them with close air support".

Quicker, Closer
The Fighter Division has learned many lessons regarding urban warfare following 2014 Operation "Protective Edge". "We learned and managed to move ahead, establishing new procedures as well as a closer connection to the ground forces which allows us to improve our skills in urban warfare", emphasized Maj. T'. "Nowadays, we know we can provide assistance in a quicker, more efficient manner than before".

Archive Photo

Following Operation "Protective Edge", the IAF realized that relations with ground divisions in the field were significant and required improvement. Recently, IAF control stations began integrating systems which utilize the Ground Arm. This way, service members in the IAF Headquarters can monitor the ground forces' activity in real-time and receive updates regarding their future plans.

"After the 2006 Second Lebanon War and Operation 'Protective Edge' we realized that we had to listen to the ground forces, understand them and utilize the IAF's power in the field", concluded Maj. A'. "How do we do that? By developing interpersonal relationships. Sitting, talking, looking each other in the eye and understanding what they need from us. From there on out, we can develop and progress".