It has been over two weeks that the IAF’s UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and reconnaissance squadrons have been working around the clock-first in the skies above the West Bank as part of Operation “Brother’s Keeper” and then in southern Israel following the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip. Over the past few days, the firing has increased and with it the activities of the squadrons, with the IDF commencing Operation “Protective Edge” last night.
Since last weekend, the “First UAV” squadron has been conducting constant flights around the clock around the Gaza Strip using unmanned aerial vehicles of the Heron-1 model.

“Our main goal is to prevent high-trajectory fire on the State of Israel”, says First Lieutenant Matan, Head of the Planning Team in the squadron. “We are conducting a mission in which we track launching teams in order to identify them even before they have executed a launch and we have already succeeded in doing this a number of times in recent days”. With the help of the squadron, the IAF has hit launching pits, stopped launching activity and preventing the firing of rockets on Israeli territory.

“How to deal with them”

The squadron participates in the strikes before, while and after it takes place. It identifies targets and verifies that they are not located near concentration of uninvolved populations and then it directs fighter jets to targets. Later it verifies the results of the strike. Nonetheless, the IAF will take care not to hit civilian bystanders and so each strike is monitored and soldiers from the squadron verify that there are no civilian population centers in the area.

Additionally, the squadron identifies changes in the behavior of Hamas members. “Just as we improve, so they improve their methods all the time in every field”, says Second Lieutenant E’, security officer in the “First UAV” squadron. “So, we track and identify new fighting doctrines that they develop and learn how to deal with them”.

“We readied ourselves for an escalation, through readying the aircrews, preparing training exercises around the Gaza Strip and exercising specific fighting doctrines in this area”, explains Second Lieutenant E’. “The goal was for the teams to be able to start flying as part of the operation, once they are fully ready and have been given orders. The preparation is based on the lessons that have accumulated from preparation for previous operations, with an emphasis on Operation “Pillar of Defense”. Currently, there is much reconnaissance activity, which in turn leads to identifying targets and directing fighter jets to these targets for the purposes of conducting an air strike”.

“This is just the beginning”

The squadron cooperates with other intelligence squadrons that operate UAVs of the “Heron TP” model and also with manned reconnaissance planes of the “King Air” model. “The missions change at a very quick pace and we often help each other. Every plane has different capabilities and so many times we need to move a certain plane to a different mission and to deploy another plane in its place”, says First Lieutenant Matan.

Currently, there are many reservists on base and many of the squadron’s aircraft are in the air. Soldiers in the squadron are committed to continuing to fly as much as they are needed. “This is just the beginning and currently we understand that things can develop anywhere. We will continue flying for even a year if we have to. That’s why we’re here”.