Crucial split-second decisions under fire in the skies

Lt Col Ron Arad is an Israeli air force (IAF) weapon systems officer who is officially classified as being missing in action since October 1986, but is widely presumed dead.

Arad was lost on a mission over Lebanon, when bombs released from under the wings of his F-4 exploded near the aircraft. He parachuted and was captured by Shiite group Amal, and was later handed over to Hezbollah. The pilot also parachuted and was rescued by an IAF helicopter.

IAF pilots are engaged in combat missions of different types frequently, and may face many ethical dilemmas while performing them. To try and prepare the pilots for such situations, a seminar was held last week at Uvda air base.

One dilemma brought up during the seminar was as follows: a pilot hears on the radio that his formation mate had to abandon his aircraft. Instincts cause him do whatever possible at that moment to assist in rescuing the downed pilot.

But what should the pilot do if his fuel tank is almost empty, his friend is in the middle of a dangerous area and he is dodging ground-to-air missiles? Should the pilot follow guidelines or risk himself and maybe even his friends and go help protect his wing-mate?

The pilots of the “Knights of the Orange Tail”, “Knights of the North” and “Bat” squadrons had to deal with similar dilemmas during the unique seminar.

Uvda is home to the enemy-simulating “Flying Dragon” squadron, which does everything in its power to make it difficult for the other squadrons to execute their missions, and force them to think differently.

During the intense, four-day seminar the squadrons were presented with ethical questions in which no decision could be made with 100% certainty. The pilots had to think quickly and deal with unfamiliar, unplanned situations about which they were not previously briefed on the ground.

“Even if after many flights you can tell if you acted correctly or not, this time around – after reaching the ground – you find yourself still undecided,” Maj ‘D’, the deputy commander of the Knights of the Orange Tail, told the IAF’s website.

Since the seminar was being held for the first time, even the control unit – which takes part in most exercises as a secret partner – did not know what the next step would be, and was just as surprised as the pilots.

“They were given a situation that according to all procedures requires a certain solution – but this time the pilots had to think ‘outside the box’ in order to come to a solution,” recalls Maj ‘Y’, deputy commander of the Flying Dragon squadron. “In most of the exercises there is a clear solution to the problems, and the challenge lies in successfully executing the mission.

“These events that have no right answer are the hardest.”



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