Investigation finds pilots of downed F-16 failed to defend themselves
While the pilot and navigator of the Israeli jet downed by Syrian anti-aircraft fire acted correctly when ejecting from the hit plane, they did not defend themselves properly from the imminent threat, investigation into Feb 10 incident finds.
A summary of the investigation released by the IDF said that the crew had chosen "to complete the mission and not defend themselves sufficiently. Their actions did not correlate with standard procedure while under enemy fire."
The events of February 10 began in the early morning hours when an Iranian drone infiltrated Israel. An IAF Apache helicopter shot it down, while fighter jets were scrambled to attack 12 Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria in retaliation. On their way back to base, the Israeli planes came under Syrian anti-aircraft fire, with one missile exploding near one of the planes and bringing it down.
The investigation into the incident, which was presented to IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, determined that the advanced planning for the operation was done properly, and the intelligence for the mission was sufficient, leading to the successful destruction of the targets, which were marked prior to the retaliatory strike.
In total, the Syrian aerial defense apparatus launched 27 missiles at IAF planes throughout the night and early morning as events unfolded, 13 of them were fired while Israeli jets were attacking the Iranian drone's control and command center. One of the missiles, a large long-range outdated SA-5 missile, hit the Israeli F-16.
The warning systems in the F-16 that was hit were found to be in order and alerted the pilot and navigator of the threat on time. The seven other planes that went out on the bombing mission were all able to defend themselves from enemy missiles by and completed their tasks successfully.
Despite this, the downed F-16's team failed to deploy countermeasures.
The pilot and navigator failed to take heed of the SA-5 missile, which locked onto their plane. The Israel Air Force determined that to be a "professional error."
"In the operational theatre, there were a number of planes that did indeed defend themselves against the Syrian launchings while completing their mission. One of the planes that did not defend itself, was hit," senior IAF officer told reporters.
The crew should have defended themselves as a priority over completing the offensive mission, the officer said.
He said the "heart of the event" was "the hiatus between their completing the mission successfully and taking defensive measures and ensuring survivability."
"The mission was completed successful and still, the plane should not have been downed, that is the standard we expect and we train for this," he said.
He did allow that the air force's control center could have been more persistent in alerting the pilots to the missile that locked onto their plane, "in a way that might have gotten the other shoe to drop sooner for the pilots."
The IAF officer also noted the amount of Syrian anti-aircraft missiles fired at the Israeli jets was bigger than in past incidents, but this was taken into account when preparing for the mission. The teams on the other planes that went on the mission were instructed to attack the drone's control and commander center if the leading plane, which was eventually hit, is busy defending itself and cannot complete the mission.
Nevertheless, the investigation concluded that the pilot and navigator's decision to abandon the plane after it was the right one.
The Russians, with whom Israel frequently communicates in order to avoid aerial confrontations over Syria, had no connection to the launching of the drone, the officer added.
"There was no Russian involvement in the incident," he said.
IDF chief Eisenkot visited the Ramon Air Base and spoke with the pilots there. "I want to express immense appreciation to you for what you're doing and for the way in which you contribute to the strength and might of the State of Israel," Eisenkot told the airmen.
"Many times, the road to significant operational achievements requires us to take risks," he added.
Eisenkot said the investigation into the incident "was professional and in-depth, and I am confident the operational lessons will be learned."
Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin also praised the airmen. "I want to praise the actions of the aerial defense systems, which led to the discovery and identification of the Iranian drone, as well as the actions of the fighters who shot down the drone, destroyed the Iranian control and command trailer and the additional Syrian and Iranian targets, delivering a significant blow to the Syrian aerial defense systems. All of these actions significantly hurt Iran's entrenchment attempts in Syria," he said.
Norkin also praised the quick extraction of the pilot and navigator. "Less than 52 minutes passed from the moment they bailed out to receiving treatment at the hospital," he said.