IAF Magazine Articles

Keeping Contact

During Operation "Cast Lead", the Air Force's Technical Communications Regiment was out in full force in the Gaza area. The regiment operated in many areas, helping improve communications within the IAF and between IAF units and units from other parts of the IDF.

Kalia Ben-Amram

The War Room is crowded. Around the long table, packed with computers and other electronic devices, sit soldiers, with different colored berets, managing the fighting. On both sides of the table delegates from numerous branches of the IDF are working: Intelligence, Paratroopers, Armor, Air Force, and representatives of the Cooperation Unit. The operation commander conducts this orchestra of information from the head of the table. The radios buzz, and the room is filled by the voices of the delegates speaking to their units, passing information and keeping track of the fighting. Together, this microcosm of the IDF makes crucial real-time decisions which influence the battle.

Making the Connection

During the Second Lebanon War the War Room was sometimes seen as problematic, indecisive and lacking a common language. Following the major changes that were made in the past two years, the IDF and the IAF can be proud of their improved cooperation and communication that allows ground forces and pilots to work together, and that allows for improved cooperation within the Air Force. Operation "Cast Lead" was an excellent opportunity to prove that the IDF is able to work together as an organic, united body that can achieve more by combining its forces. The seemingly simple ability for all the bodies to communicate with one another is the basis of the IDF's new Modus Operandi, and the unit which is responsible, behind the scenes, for providing this basis is the Air Force's Communications Regiment.

"The Regiment's task is to install, operate and maintain field communications systems in all of the IAF's non-permanent sites and for specific missions that require them. We use communication cupboards and airborne relays on board the King Air B200 (known in Hebrew as the "Tsufit", meaning Sunbird) and the Boeing 707 (known in Hebrew as the "Re'em', meaning Oryx, a kind of Antelope)", explains Lieutenant Colonel Ron, commander of the Communications Regiment. "The communication cupboards enable contact between various systems and specific aircraft when direct communication is not possible. The aircraft fly next to or over the Gaza Strip, and the regiment's staff provides a connection between Master Control and the Control Room, or between other bodies. The users can even change during the flight".

What's the Connection?

The Communications Regiment is made up of hundreds of soldiers and reservists, and in the field is divided into two flights; the "Radio-Telephone" flight and the "Radio and Computerized Systems" flight. The regiment works in small teams of up to seven soldiers. During each assignment, a team is attached to a different regiment from the IAF or other arm of the IDF and is responsible for establishing and maintaining a connection. Each team's assignment is temporary, and there is no link between one assignment and the next. The nature of the work requires many commanders, so the method of leadership is different to that of other Air Force regiments. Every small group of soldiers is commanded over by a soldier, who has passed Commanders Course and who manages the entire operation, without officers and independent of a larger framework.

"We aren't afraid of getting dirty, we didn't come to be clerks", says Corporal Tal Keren, an instructor in the regiment's training school who was deployed on a base near Gaza during Operation "Cast Lead".  "During wartime there are no classes, as everyone is committed to the fight. I've been deployed, and essentially am doing what I teach my soldiers to do. I've enjoyed every minute. Where else could I work with the whole of the IDF, and in direct contact with its fighters?" Aside from the fear of falling rockets, Corporal Tal indicates that the atmosphere on the base is positive.  "Most of the time we are in the field and we sleep in tents, not in buildings, so from the perspective of sleeping conditions this is an improvement", she adds with a smile. "There's a feeling of being at war, so that atmosphere is positive, everyone is more serious and invested in the situation". Corporal Michelle Dadoush is deployed alongside Corporal Tal. The two of them wear Battle Dress Uniform, wandering around the mass of red berets, waiting to spring in to action if a connection is lost during the day or, as they have experienced, during the small hours of the night. "There was nothing here the first week.

Gradually a War Room was established and we deployed the Air Force's communications systems. From the moment we brought it online we were ready to treat any faults, even if they were at two in the morning", she explains. "We're close to the operational activity and it's very interesting. We understand the importance of what we are doing and without us there would be many of regiments who simply could not function. It's a very different world from the Air Force. As part of this role we meet new people all the time, but at the end of the placement we always have the regiment to go back to".  Be

in Touch

In situations where the mission is complicated, or long or wide-ranging, an officer (a Deployed Platoon Commander) is directly in charge. The regiment has two Deployed Platoon Commanders. During the fighting, they worked in parallel, visiting the various communications teams along the length of the Gaza Strip, commanding over missions that require leadership by an officer. First Lieutenant Charshuk Bislan, along with one of the regiment's teams, put together the deployment for one of the bases in the area. "We set up all of the Air Force's and cooperation unit's equipment and now we are operating them", he said. "We are working in complete cooperation with the army, they use our equipment and we use theirs. We sit side by side, working with the communications system to achieve the IDF's goals, and the goals of the Air Force". First Lieutenant Charshuk reached the regiment recently, and explains that he enjoys every moment. "I'm more a field man than an office man, and I feel that every day I'm deployed in the field I learn, work and, essentially, contribute. Working during wartime is exciting, and I'm excited that I've started to really work, and that what I'm doing is genuinely important".  
The Combat Connection

During Operation "Cast Lead" the majority of the regiment took part in continuous operations in the Gaza area. There were dozens of soldiers, deployed in teams, a number of communications cupboards and two airborne relays flying at all times, carrying out aerial relays. "Throughout the fighting we are working to expand communications coverage in the strip", explains Lieutenant Colonel Ron. "The improved communications coverage was achieved by increasing the number of communication cabinets, In general, the regiment satisfied the communications needs of the Cooperation Regiment, the helicopter units, the command and control units and the antiaircraft units". The Cooperation Regiment, the body responsible for cooperation between the various IDF units throughout the operation, was the main user. "In general command and control comes from the division headquarters but for this operation, as opposed to the Second Lebanon War, decisions were made on the ground", explains Lieutenant Colonel Ran. "We gave access to the equipment directly to the regiments, so we needed to provide connections on a much more individual basis, and to operate from far more sites".

Throughout the fighting the regiment got used to another change. The "Light Ray" system, the new player in the Communications Regiment, added new capabilities in the field, but like every new system suffered from teething problems. The system is connected to a nation-wide network, allows for the transmission of many kinds media. Lieutenant Colonel Ron: "We started to use the system for the first time during the conflict, before the regiment had received training on it. The regiment's training school arranged an accelerated program, and in this way the soldiers learnt to set up the system and operate it in the field, whilst they were deployed".

Building a Link

The transfer of responsibility for the Communications Regiment from Lod Airbase to the Air Defense Network stood out in the intense atmosphere of the operation. A glance at the guest list of the various teams deployed along the Gaza Strip throughout the fighting makes it clear that the question of "Who's in charge?" was put aside until the end of the battle. There are three possible answers; the commander of Lod Airbase, where the regiment sits today, the commander of the Air Defense Network, to which the regiment will belong and the commander of the Air Defense School, where the regiment will be based a year from now. The commander of the Air Defense Network did the best thing possible, and decided to take the airborne relay training course over the Chanukah break. He completed his specialization-training flights during the operation. "Everyone is interested in the work of the soldiers in the field, everyone's involved and everyone's supportive there", described Lieutenant Colonel Ran. "If it weren't for the operation then we'd already be wearing a different tag, under final responsibility of the Air Defense Network".

The Air Defense Network began the process of absorbing the regiment a number of months ago and has been supporting it since, both in terms of management and logistics. However, even after the transfer has been completed the regiment will still be operated directly by operations headquarters.
At first the veteran regiment did not respond to the transfer

enthusiastically, particularly as it was being moved to the Air Defense School, deep in southern Israel. "After 30 years of operating independently it's very hard to get used to the new arrangement, even though I believe that moving to the Air Defense Network will provide us major advantages and will improve our capabilities", says Lieutenant Colonel Ran. "The initiative came from the commander of the Air Defense Network. The way in which the Air Defense Network operates is very similar to the way in which our regiment operates, so the connection is natural and right. They know how to speak to us in our language, both in operational, logistic and training terms".

Always Connected

During peacetime, the regiment is situated in three centers in the south, which it continually maintains. However, during routine security operations and particularly during the fighting, the soldiers shift their operations elsewhere. One day they could be assigned to the Givati brigades, and the next to the Paratroopers.  Second Lieutenant Shaham Cohen, who has been a Deployed Platoon Commander for the past eight months, finds any work with a combat unit a source of pride and a reason to work with extra devotion. He grew up in the regiment, and sees himself continuing in a military career there. "Maybe it sounds crazy, but in my opinion it's the best role in the IDF. We work with people from all over the IAF and the IDF, and we live in the field like combat soldiers", he says with satisfaction. "Those who manage the fighting need the communication we provide in order to succeed. That's the role, and I'm happy to do it and help in the best way I can.

I believe that if you're not a fighter, you should serve in the Communications Regiment". The regiment's reservists, who have been through numerous deployments, are a clear sign of the changes the IDF went through between the Second Lebanon War and Operation "Cast Lead". Sergeant Major Meir Shabtai and Sergeant Major David Ben Eli are a living example of those who experienced the change. They are radio system operators who have been friends since they began their army service and who undertake reserve duty in the regiment every year. "During the Second Lebanon War we were called up, but no one came to meet us at the meeting point. We waited a few hours until someone explained to us where we needed to go, and throughout the fighting we felt that there was no one dealing with us or helping us", describes Major Ben Eli. "From our operational work to our basic needs, throughout the fighting we felt like we'd come to an empty space". The two explain that, despite the difficulty of being away from home, from work and from their personal lives, the picture now is entirely different. "This time we felt that a lot was done to make use of, and look after, the reserve forces. From the moment they

enlisted us, they were concerned with every management issue and dealt with every request immediately. The work was clear and ordered. The best proof of this is that there was almost nothing to do; the system worked as necessary so there was nothing to fix", explains Major Meir. "Today, I've already got used to being here, and now the two of us enjoy the work. We're close to what going on, we see the reality beyond what you see on the TV screen".

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