Unit 108 of the Israeli airforce (IAF) operates from a base within a larger military compound. Gates and armed soldiers are part of the security net that surrounds this special unit, which does not fire weapons but is critical to every other unit in the force.
Officially Unit 108 is the “electronic unit” of the IAF. It deals with electronics but is actually the heart and nervous system of all the systems the IAF operates, whether manned, unmanned or on the ground.
Col E., the unit’s commander, describes his unit as the “IAF’s electronic commando”, and after a few hours in the unit’s laboratories talking to the officers and soldiers, I can say that he does not exaggerate.
The unit maintains all the electronic systems installed in the IAF’s air and ground equipment, but that is only part of its daily routine.
There is no aircraft operated by the IAF resembles the machine that left the production line in the US. To be able to perform a multitude of missions in a dense environment, the IAF has changed, upgraded and modified its aircraft and weapon systems almost from day one in service.
“We develop and manufacture small quantities of electronic parts that cannot be purchased off the shelf – this because we are talking about special performance and small numbers,” Col E. says.
To do this, the unit has laboratories and simulators, and is capable of using reverse engineering techniques to meet requirements for an new upgrade/modification – even if the operational requirement is for one weapon system operated under special circumstances.
The unit supports all the IAF squadrons and systems, like the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system and the Iron Dome rocket interceptor.
As the lifespan of a software block shrinks all the time, electronics have to change accordingly – and that is also part of the unit’s job.
Another IAF unit produces the new software blocks, which are put to action with the help of new electronic cards and components, some of which have to be handled under a microscope.
The growing use of unmanned air systems (UAS) in the IAF has also affected the unit’s work.
Col. A revealed that his men are developing a “health” system for UAS that will be capable of predicting a developing malfunction of a UAS engine.
A thousand officers and soldiers serve in unit 108, and they are currently busy on no less than a hundred development projects, on top of the maintenance of electronic parts.
It can be said without doubt that the “punch” of the IAF’s fixed-wing and rotorcraft fighting platforms of the IAF would surprise even their original designers, thanks to the “electronic wisdom” put into the different “black boxes” that have been installed in them.
The unit draws its experts from students at schools that teach advanced electronics. The unit has “talent hunters” that go to these schools, pick the best and bring them – after basic military training – to the unit where they use their potential to create very advanced electronic systems that cannot be purchased on the market.
There is no runway at the 108 base, but it has an “aircraft”: actually a mid-fuselage section of a fighter aircraft with a cockpit connected to the most advanced simulators. Each system that is going to be installed on one of the IAF’s aerial platforms has to be tested in this static simulator before it is sent to the IAF’s flight test centre, where it is tested in real flight conditions.
With the delivery of F-35s approaching and the many upgrade programmes the IAF is currently undertaking, the unit will be working around the clock to supply solutions and support.