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Israeli Air Force Flies Over 1,000 UAV Hours a Week

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Changing the Game

(Source: Israeli Air Force; issued Nov 19, 2018)

RPAVs (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicles) have become a main topic in the field of aviation over the past decades. In the last year, the rate of development has grown and the IAF RPAV Division has taken on additional missions due to influence the entire air force. Last week (Thursday), the seventh RPAV conference occurred, in which everything new, interesting and important in the field of RPAVs was discussed.

"The Middle East is changing and the RPAV Division is required to operate in several theatres at the same time", said Brig. Gen. Nimrod Shifroni, who recently concluded his service as the Commander of Palmahim AFB. "Clandestine activity occurs almost every day alongside routine operation". The division faces various challenges: it is operational, developing capabilities relevant to various theatres all while maintaining its service members' wartime preparedness.

Keep Going

The RPAV Division clocks in over 1,000 flight hours every week, and at any given moment there are several RPAVs in the air. Over the past seven years, the number of RPAV flight hours has grown by 150%. The division is responsible for about 1/3rd of the IAF's flight hours and 2/3rds of its operational flight hours. "The significance of this number needs to be realized – the RPAV Division's place in the air force continues to grow", emphasized Brig. Gen. Shifroni.

The division's missions include border defense, threat detection, providing support to ground forces and reconnaissance, among others. "RPAVs escort almost every operational ground force from the air, whether via reconnaissance, direct or indirect support".

The division also bears good news in the field of force build-up: "The RPAV Division is growing in several aspects – nowadays, several airbases operate RPAVs and not just Palmahim", said Brig. Gen. Shifroni. "More and more squadrons are being established every year. As a result, the RPAV Division's manpower and infrastructure grow as well, and every year there are more and more operators who are fit to perform the division's operational missions".

The RPAV Division is required to perform its routine activity alongside operational activity under various threats – the IAF calls this "operational continuity". "The IAF will not stop operating under attack", elaborated Brig. Gen. Shifroni. "We know how to overcome and keep going".

Fulfilling Potential

"The IAF is no longer the sole RPAV operator in the IDF", said Brig. Gen. Shifroni. "Our challenge is combining the various aircraft in terms of safety and allowing the IDF to fulfill the division's potential".

One of the units operating RPAVs in the GOC Army Headquarters is the "Sky Riders" Unit from the IDF Artillery Corps, which operates in cooperation with the IAF. "One of the 'Sky Riders' Unit's main missions is the operation of tactical RPAVs", said Lt. Col. Reut Rettig-Weiss, the unit's commander who is also the first female in the role. "Every crew in the unit has an officer in command. The crew are small, independent and versatile – they have to know how to improvise, be flexible and handle any situation".

"Threats evolve constantly, both above and below ground. We need to establish a team which is able to analyze the situation in real-time and make the most of its capabilities. We are required to operate in a crowded airspace – each aircraft needs to have its own place, whether it be an attack helicopter or a tactical RPAV. Our goal is working together towards the IDF's victory in any mission".

Something to Be Proud of

The IAF set a goal of developing the field of RPAV simulators. "Most of our exercises can be performed in a simulator. This is a field with great potential which we have yet to fully develop". The division's expansion can also be seen in the training of its service members. "The need for operators is expected to grow as time goes on", added Brig. Gen. Shifroni. "Therefore, the RPAV Academy is developing, integrating new capabilities and participating in additional international cooperation".

"The RPAV Division can be proud of itself, both in operational activity and its achievements in other fields", concluded Brig. Gen. Shifroni. "We need to look towards the division's future as a force with a critical influence on the battlefield in the next campaigns".