Training sessions far away from home are not unusual for Air Force members in general, and for helicopter pilots in particular. This time around, after a long flight of roughly 1,800 kilometers (about 1,100 miles,) they arrived at the Romanian Air Force’s flight and anti-aircraft school, according to local media.
But why did they go there? The threats faced by Israel, the need to intercept weapons smuggled from states located on the shores of the Red Sea, and other special operations require the Air Force to maintain long-range operational capabilities.
Such operations are sometimes carried out (and will likely be carried out in the future) on short notice, hundreds and thousands of kilometers away from Israel. Often, such operations are undertaken in areas new to pilots that are difficult to navigate through, are replete with threats (ranging from weather conditions to anti-aircraft missile batteries and hostile jets), and must be faced with no intelligence information.
Hence, almost every such operation includes not only Air Force fighter jets but also fueling planes, intelligence aircraft, command and control planes, and helicopters of course. In long-range aerials operations, Air Force helicopters hold special significance. Their missions include searching and rescuing pilots, transporting Special Forces to their destination, refueling, and intelligence gathering.
Seeking alternatives to TurkeyTo that end, chopper pilots must acquire the skills needed for long-range flights that comprise mid-air refueling, navigation through difficult mountainous terrain, challenging weather conditions, and cooperation with friendly Air Forces. This is why the Air Force has been sending its helicopter squadrons since the 1980s to deploy and train in distant states.
Up until a year ago, most of these training sessions took part in Turkey. The mountainous terrain in the country is very similar to regions where the Air Force is supposed to operate in. Fighter jet and helicopter squadrons would deploy at Turkish Air Force bases and practice all sorts of possible missions – mostly navigation, low-altitude flights, and flying through borderline weather.
Simultaneously, the Air Force developed ties with more distant European states. As opposed to the relatively short flight to Turkey, flights to other states require mid-air refueling, long-range maneuvering, and cooperation with foreign officials. According to foreign reports, Israel engaged in several such drills in the past two years in the vicinity of Greece and Italy, practicing attacks on targets that are more than 1,000 kilometers away.
The negative turn in our ties with Turkey further boosted the Air Force’s need for training sessions in friendly European states, including Romania. Air Force officials in these countries are happy to cooperate, and at the same time learn from the experience accumulated by the Israeli Air Force and from its modus operandi. Hence, the latest deployment of the Israeli helicopters in Romania was not unusual.
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