While it may seem as if Israel is going through a relatively quiet period along its borders at the moment, one branch of the IDF is busy 24/7 – in the air.
Whether attacking Hamas targets in response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, or spearheading the Israeli effort to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria and Lebanon with secret strikes, the Israel Air Force works around the clock.
And one of the most active units within the IAF is 133 Squadron, the Knights of The Twin Tail, an F15 squadron based at Tel Nof.
Despite being the IAF’s oldest active fighter jet, the F15 – known in Hebrew as “Baz” (Falcon) – is maintained as an up-to-date jet equipped with the latest technologies, ammunition, and upgrades required to carry out its missions.
The twin-engined F15 is considered a heavy aircraft and unlike the much newer and far more advanced F35, which is based mainly on electronic components, the F15 is mostly mechanical.
Its main purpose is to provide air superiority and keep incoming threats well away, so by carrying a large munitions payload and a large amount of fuel affords it the ability to fly at high altitudes to distant targets.
Lt.-Col. M., the squadron’s commander, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview at the base that besides being the IAF’s oldest fighter jet in service, the F15 is constantly upgraded.
“It is only the airframe that is still being kept,” he said. “The plane underwent upgrading and improvements throughout the years, it has all the modern abilities of the air force, and it can carry all the main ammunitions that the IAF
uses. It might look like an old jet from the outside, but it’s not old if you judge it by its abilities.”
M.’s squadron is a vital part in the IAF’s operational abilities and it takes part in many routine missions to keep Israel safe.
When on duty, squadron pilots are ready to respond immediately, and they can be airborne within five minutes.
Among their responsibilities are interception duty, which includes protecting the country’s airspace from unwelcome intruders and aircraft that arrive without prior approval; attack duty, which includes striking along different fronts if
the call is made; and intelligence gathering, which includes the deployment of special photography equipment that can be installed for this purpose.
M. stressed the importance of the learning mechanics in his squadron. While most of the IDF ground forces are busy either protecting borders or training, his squadron, as part of the IAF, needs to do both – and under a tight schedule. In
a single day it can conduct both training flights and carry out operations beyond enemy lines, requiring constant re-evaluation of the situation and ongoing threats in the region.
“The IAF has set itself a top priority to be a learning organization, and as such, it learns fast and adapts itself to all kinds of scenarios,” M. said. “It also focuses on transformations – the ability to change on the spot and prepare
for the threats of today, and not only to prepare for the distant future.”
M. added that he sees his squadron as an NBA team: constantly in motion in order to win, even when the result is only determined at the buzzer.
“We train all the time to keep our high level of performance,” M. said. “We are expected to operate within minutes when we hear the siren calling us. To do so, we train and train and train – just like an NBA player who can instinctively
shoot the basket and score, despite being guarded and despite the time pressure.
“Just like them, we need to be fit, sharp, and always ready to hit at the buzzer,” he said. “That requires a lot of training in the air and on the ground.”
THE SQUADRON was established in 1976 under its first leader, Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, who later became commander of the IAF. The current IAF commander, Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin, was head of the squadron between 1999 and 2002.
The unit is mainly known for two famous events: in 1979 it was the first F15 in history to shoot down another fighter jet during a battle with Syrian forces in south Lebanon.
The other shoot-down was of the Israeli government. When the first three F15s arrived in Israel in 1976, they landed shortly after Shabbat began and the religious members of Yitzhak Rabin’s coalition voted against the government and
Israel was forced to an election.
Despite being over 40 years old, the IAF will keep the jet flying for at least another 20 years.
The work of the squadron is not only done by pilots in the air, but also by technicians on the ground. This apparatus is led by four officers and over a hundred soldiers.
Their job is to work around the clock and take care of the jets between tasks.
Maj. A, technical officer of the squadron, told the Post that his men and women are capable of readying each fighter jet according to the different threats.
“Whether it is the ammunition, the fuel tanks or routine check-ups, we are always here making sure that the planes are ready,” he said.
During this corona year, the squadron’s technicians left their usual dorms and moved into the large hangar, where they stay 24/7. M. said that despite the difficulties, his unit has became more united.
“We try to take the COVID-19 restrictions an extra step,” he said. “We understand that harm to our unit is direct harm to the country’s defense mechanism. But beside the hardships that this period has brought us, our togetherness has
made us feel even closer and stronger.”