This week, the Aerial Defense Division marked 67 six years since its establishment. Since its establishment in 1950, weapons systems have been replaced and its organizational structure has changed, but the division’s vision has stayed the same. “The division is pioneering and is at the forefront of operational activity”, emphasized Brig. Gen. Zvika Haimovich, the Division Commander.
In the beginning, the Anti-Aircraft division was assigned to the Artillery Corps and was reassigned to the IAF only in the mid 1960’s. The division took an active part in protecting Israel in routine and war situations and on November 11, 2011, it changed its name from the Anti-Aircraft Division to the Aerial Defense Division. The name change expressed an extensive change in the division’s classic designation. Besides defending Israel from enemy aircraft, in the past few years, the division took on another mission - defense from rocket and missile threats.
Pini Shefter served as a radar technician in a “Hawk” SAM Battery, he was positioned in a mobile company, whose mission was to be constantly prepared for deployment. He completed his military service in March 1982, but in June of the same year the First Lebanon War broke out and his battery was called back to service. The battery was positioned on the peak of Mt. Jabel Baruc, deep in Lebanon and its main mission was to intercept Syrian MiG-25 fighters that were known to photograph IDF forces in Lebanon.
“MiG-25 fighters fly very high and very fast, at 70,000 feet and at a speed of Mach 2 and a half”, Shefter explained. “The IAF had trouble shooting it down because it flew higher than our fighters and due to the thinness of the air at that height, the missiles found it difficult to hit the jet”. Brig. Gen. (Res’) Uri Ram, then the Operations Branch Officer for the Anti-Aircraft Division who would later go on to be the Division’s Commander, offered to attempt to shoot-down the MiG with “Hawk” missiles, despite its altitude being outside the abilities of the missile. Maj. Gen. (Res’) Avihu Ben-Nun, then Head of the Air Division, was convinced, and Operation “Gozal” (Hebrew for “Chick”) began.
The maximal altitude the “Hawk” system was able to operate in was 55,000 feet, as a result, the battery was positioned at the head of the mountain. In addition, before launching a missile, the battery’s radar needed to lock onto the aircraft, after scanning in two setting: high and low, which were both insufficient when facing fast, high altitude aircraft. “Because of its speed, we had to lock onto it when it was far away. We understood that we needed a designated scan setting at a certain angle”, Shefter said.
With the help of a fellow technician, Shefter built a device that allowed the system to lock onto a high altitude – high speed aircraft, the device was tested and installed in the battery. A few days later, the photographing MiG flew in its regular course. A young officer sitting in the interception succeeded to lock in to the jet, but failed to intercept it. Ten days later, Shefter was awoken by the ring of his home phone. “The maintenance unit commander called me and said ‘Shefter, your change worked’”, he recalled. “I asked if it locked and he answered ‘Not only did it lock, it shot-down’”.
The Dome’s First
The “Iron Dome” Division establishment team began working in March 2006 under the command of Capt. Maor Gavriel. “We studied the system from the drawing board”, he shared. “We established the battalion and first battery and underwent a long conversion, integration and training process. The process was performed in order to be prepared for the interception day, which is as important as the interception itself”, on April 7, 2011, less than two weeks after the battery became operational, a rocket was launched at Israel.
“While intercepting, we were already prepared for the next event”, Gavriel emphasized. “Past experience has taught us that there is never just one rocket. Nonetheless, the excitement was great. It was ‘Iron Dome’s first interception. The interception scenario we faced was the scenario we trained for. The team that performed the interception was made up of a group of combatants, technicians and officers that trained together. I had no doubt regarding the system’s pioneering ability in the world of aerial defense against rockets”.
"We Were Ready"
When Capt. (Res’) Tomer Oyahon, the former Commander of a “Patriot” SAM Battery woke up on September 23, 2014, he had no idea that the day before him would go down in history as the day his battery shot down a Syrian Su-24 fighter.
“Suddenly, the alarm sounded. We were ready for action as we had intercepted a UAV three weeks beforehand”, he recalled. “Two officers were scrambled and operated the scenario. Two Syrian fighter jets approached the Israeli border, when one of them crossed the alert line and thereafter crossed another. At that point the battery requested policy and the regional ATC Unit approved the interception. Once the approval was given, the officer in charge launched the missile. The whole battery shook from the intensity of the launch. A super-sonic boom was heard and the missile flew towards the target. We waited to see if the missile will hit. It reached the target and then the system showed that the interception was successful".
It was an interception with historical significance. Firstly, the interception of the Su-24 was the IAF’s first fighter aircraft shoot down since 1985. Secondly, it was the Patriot system’s first operational interception of a fighter aircraft since it began its service in the IDF. And the crown jewel: it was the first shoot down of a Su-24 in history.