The operational process in the IAF is divided into two separate but complementary parts: planning and control. The planning personnel, Branch and Department Commanders in the Air Operations Division, write the operation orders and are responsible for communicating them to operational elements such as flight squadrons, the ATC (Air Traffic Control) Division and the relevant control personnel, who are in practice central command, not to be confused with air traffic control.
Control personnel in the control stations, headed by the Control Station Commander are those who execute the plan and are responsible for dealing with planned and surprise events, in fact, making the Control Division responsible for supervising and executing the IAF's operational plans.
"More relevant than ever"
It is important to understand that the duty of the control personnel is not only to ensure that everything goes as planned. They have the authority to decide on any changes in the activity in correspondence with the dynamic reality. "If everything works according to the plan, that's great. The controller's job is to formulate a situation report and if it works, we don't touch it", explained Lt. Col. Asaf.
But everyone knows that in reality, things don't always go as planned. "Anything that we define as an unexpected or surprise event, a situations that we cannot prepare for, such as a terror attack, are events led by the controller. It is hard to prepare for such events even though we have training exercises and plans. With that, it is important that there be someone that knows how to react to such events".
In the IAF's Operation HQ there is always a manned and active control station. "The IAF is on alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week and we know that the theatre can catch fire in moments, so there is always someone ready to operate. I believe that the control division is more significant than ever", added Lt. Col. Asaf.
"The control personnel operate technology directly and indirectly through the different units which results in high awareness to anything that goes in the spotlighted area. The moment we have relevant information, we receive a higher priority than the person in the field. It used to be different, and the formation in the field had the better picture and would communicate it information to us. Today, technology is so much more advanced and things have changed".
To Choose a Controller
So who are the control station commanders and how are they chosen for the complex duty? They are Colonels and Brig. Generals in reserve service that contribute dozens of service days a year.
In addition, the control station commanders are talented and appreciated IAF officers, that have gained unmatched operational experience throughout their service and whom the IAF doesn't want to discharge just yet.
"This is a significant perceptual change in comparison to the past in which the reserve personnel were a supporting force to mandatory and career servicemen and women. In Operation "Protective Edge" we utilized the reserve servicemen and women's rich operational experience, they sat in the control stations and mandatory service soldiers assisted them when needed and mostly dealt with planning", shared Lt. Col. Asaf. "I think it proved itself and that they did an amazing job. As far as I am concerned this change is welcome and our approach is that we trust our people and together we will fight and win".
The control skill
Brig. Gen. (Res') Shelly, who commands one of the control stations in the Op HQ uses the term "the art of control" when referring to his position.
"The art of control is the ability to understand how each element in the chain of control is important and helpful, how to command and utilize each link and how to give each of them the space to judge the scenario according to the information they have", he explained. "One of the misconceptions that technology holds is that the controller knows what every pilot in experiencing. It's true that the information is more accessible, but in combat there is a lot of information in the hands of the pilots in the air that the controller doesn't have. Thus, there must be room for the pilots, ATC, and infantry troops to make decisions. That is the art of control in my option, to know how each opinion is a finger and their combination is like one big band".
"What is important is that ability to create the right combination between your experience, your knowledge of the IAF's history and your perspective on the events along with your professional acquaintance with the IAF's current operational abilities. The ability to manage and command the control center personal is also an important one. Reserve personnel bring a different perspective with them, I believe that their rich experience and the strength of mandatory service personnel are a power multiplier for the IAF".