The year-old command is designed to coordinate operations in enemy territory and take advantage of highly trained special forces and new technologies such as airborne precision multifunction sensors and weapons. Among the forces involved are 166, 200 and 210 Sqdns. which use a combination of Elbit’s Hermes 450 and 900 and the Heron TP (Eitan) UAVs.
The unit’s mission is real-time intelligence, daytime reconnaissance during battles and hunting rocket launchers and mortars. “[The UAVs are] not stealthy, but they are silent and very discreet,” an Israeli air force UAV pilot says. “The Heron 1 can stay in the air for 30 hours or more, depending on the payload.”
Another unit, 100 Sqdn., flies Beechcraft King Air 200Ts and A36 Bonanzas that carry multi-spectral sensors, simultaneous displays and real-time communications. A companion unit, 135 Sqdn., supplies signals-intelligence and overlays for the visual data.
“We gather intel before [an attack], then accompany the operation and then do bomb-damage assessment afterward,” a 100 Sqdn. pilot says. “We’ll acquire the target, guide the attack and provide an assessment of whether [the attack] was successful.”
But perhaps the unit’s most important role is discovering the locations of caches and firing sites of short-range rockets and missiles in Gaza and southern Lebanon.
The Iron Dome defenses are directed by the 167th Active Air Defense Wing headquartered at Palmachim air base, south of Tel Aviv. It also coordinates the Arrow and Patriot III air defense systems. It is a year and a half into an evolution from an anti-aircraft paradigm to an active air defense.
“Defense has become more complicated because of the numbers and categories of rockets and missiles involved,” says the wing’s commander. “The ballistic sky is split into two pieces, the upper and lower tiers. It presents a great challenge to sharing all the same information, detection cures, targeting data, interception points as well as the debris and other after-effects that follow an interception. The solution is a centralized command-and-control facility that manages, coordinates and synchronizes the two tiers.” c