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Air Traffic Control Training Release date 11.10.2018
The Air Traffic Control Division functions as the eyes of the IAF, all while managing and synchronizing Israel's airspace. How does the division prepare for complex scenarios? What does an air traffic controller do during operational activity? And how does a simulation suddenly become reality?
Illy Pe'ery

The ATC (Air Traffic Control) Division is one of the most central divisions both in the IAF and the entire IDF. Every flight taking off from or landing in any AFB or airfield goes directly through the ATC Division's service members. The air traffic controllers are the eyes of the IAF, with one of their main missions being the establishment of a precise, reliable aerial overview while detecting, monitoring and classifying aerial targets in order to protect Israel's skies. The controllers handle the aerial overview on the screens of the ATC Unit and update the aircrew members regarding threats and dangers in the air, all while providing instructions and recommending various modes of operation.

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"The ATC Division is central to the IAF, both in operational activity and in training, which takes up a major part of the force's day-to-day activity", said Maj. N', Head of the ATC Training Department in the IAF Air Division. "Planning an exercise is a complex procedure – there are differences between the entire force's general training and the ATC's specific training. Our role is to maximize the quality of every ATC Division exercise in order to provide high-end training for all involved. The controllers' importance rises during complex exercises, seeing as they are an inseparable part of the mission".

The Bigger Picture
The ATC Division's advantage over other IAF divisions is the ability of its service members to manage and synchronize the airspace in a dynamic operational theatre. The controllers at the ATC Units know how to handle unexpected events, as well as how to report abnormal events – those which require real-time solutions - to controllers at the IAF Operational HQ.

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According to Maj. N', these situations are drilled both simulatively and in real-time across the division's various exercises. "The best exercise we can provide comes about when all operational IAF squadrons take part. Our advantage is in our ability to see the bigger picture – we manage and synchronize the airspace while also managing and synchronizing weapon systems in face of various threats", she elaborated.

A large part of the ATC Division and Fighter Division's exercises is performed at the Mission Training Center located at the 420th ("Simulator") Squadron. The Mission Training Center allowed the IAF to participate in a new kind of simulated exercise, as part of which the controllers can simulate a completely operational theatre alongside the aircrew members. They can train by themselves or in formation, and reality can be simulated with verisimilitude, whether it be a sortie in Israel or outside it. When a squadron arrives at the Mission Training Center for a training week, an ATC crew comes along. Thus, the exercise improves the capabilities of both the flying aircrews and the ATC crews.

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Maj. N' added: "The cooperation between the controllers and the pilots during the exercise doesn't happen every day: briefing, performing complex missions and debriefing together brings about copious conclusions for the two sides, who are due to encounter each other again during operational activity. This allows for cross-fertilization between the participating forces, which emphasizes the relative strengths of both the aircrew members and the controllers".

A Complex Operational Theatre
Six months ago, the Southern ATC Unit led the IAF's sky defense seminar for the first time. Until then, seminars were led either by the squadrons or the IAF's training department. This time, the seminar was managed entirely by the ATC Unit in cooperation with the 115th ("Flying Dragon") Squadron, the IAF's aggressor squadron.

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"While most of the routine activity in the squadrons is composed of training, activity in the ATC Unit is mostly operational. The ATC Division understands that one of the major challenges it has to drill is defensive and offensive missions in a complex operational theatre", added Maj. N'. "The complexity of the operational theatre is a result of various aircraft flying at different altitudes while performing different missions, in addition to aerial and ground threats in the theatre which coagulate into a complex real-time overview".

"In exercises led by the squadrons, the participants drill specific flight scenarios. In the exercise led by the Southern ATC Unit and the 115th Squadron, we planned scenarios according to ideas which arose in the field and faced various operational challenges we are due to encounter in the operational theatre".

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"The exercise allows the crews to encounter various situations and face unplanned scenarios which require quick decision-making", concluded Maj. N'. "The theatre is changing at a rapid pace and there are many surprises. The controllers are required to be professional, sharp, flexible and well-versed in the theatre and its threats, the aerial missions and the weapon systems".