The experience of Israel’s special forces could be useful for Russian military aviation

This post was published in Vzglyad. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.


MOSCOW, (BM) – The Israel Defense Forces announced a significant reform – a new association of the country’s air force special forces was created. To some extent, the Israeli reforms could be interesting, including as an example for Russian reality. Especially considering the actions of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria and the losses they suffered there.

In the structure of the Air Force (VKS) of Russia, there are no special forces performing the same tasks as these structures in Israel. It is especially significant that the Israeli special forces are conscripts, not contract soldiers, as in Russia or a number of other countries with highly qualified special forces.

In other words, the most important combat missions are performed by people trained from scratch in a year and a half. True, the service life in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is three years. At the same time, candidates, of course, pass the strictest selection, and the preparation itself is very difficult (more on that below).

Combining forces

Until recently, the Israel Defense Forces Air Force special forces were subordinate to the Special Air Force Headquarters (KAAM) of the Air Operations Directorate of the Air Force Headquarters, deployed at various Israeli Air Force bases and were organizationally subordinate to their commanders. This dual power created problems in terms of the management and use of these units.

And now, according to the official website of the IDF, the headquarters of the KAAM was disbanded, and instead of it, the 7th air wing of the Air Force MTR was created (“Kanaf 7”). The wing was formed at the Palmachim airbase, and all detachments subordinate to this wing will be deployed there.

The unit is headed by the same officer who was the chief of staff of the KAAM from 2019 until its disbandment. The names of the commanders of special forces in Israel are not disclosed, therefore, for the general public, the commander of the 7th Special Operations Air Wing is a certain Colonel A.

The 7th Wing will include all ground special forces of the Air Force and a new reconnaissance unit will be formed. Also, by 2022, it is planned to create a single KAAM school for training personnel – this means that all educational tasks and training will be transferred to the school, and the combat units themselves will be able to focus exclusively on operational issues.

In addition, it is expected that due to the training of servicemen in a single school according to unified methods and unified programs, the quality of training of fighters will increase. At the same time, this reorganization will ensure budget savings – the merger of subdivisions will provide an opportunity to create a unified logistic support system, unify supply standards.

Equally important, the reform will increase the motivation of the military. As they go through service, they will be promoted to the operational and training headquarters of the Air Force, which will ensure their career growth and at the same time help integrate the wing’s tasks into the general tasks of the Air Force.

Of particular interest, of course, is not the reform itself, but those units that are part of the 7th air wing. And it is worth telling about them in more detail.

Detachment “Shaldag”

“Shaldag” in translation from Hebrew – kingfisher. The detachment is stationed at the Palmachim airbase. This is a unit whose tasks are target reconnaissance and guidance, air traffic control, crew rescue and other types of support for air force operations.

The squad was formed by Colonel Moshe Betzer in 1974 after the Yom Kippur War. However, the unit began to really develop only in the late 1980s, when the commander of the detachment, Major Alik Ron, who visited the 22nd SAS regiment, introduced the experience of training British colleagues to the unit.

In addition, after 1990, the unit began to receive the latest equipment, munitions and weapons, and all conditions were created for engaging in combat training. As a result, a couple of years later, the “kingfishers” were on a par with the most elite units of the Israeli army.

The squad is selected from among 18-year-old recruits. They are taught to drop from helicopters and aircraft of different types and from different heights, mine explosives and hand-to-hand combat techniques. The most valuable skill is the ability to navigate the terrain (both with the help of a compass and map, and without them).

In preparation, special attention is paid to the ability to navigate and survive in the desert, which the fighters learn from the Bedouins. The reason is that just behind the Negev desert lies Israel’s main enemy, Egypt.

The most important attention is paid to tactical and special training. For example, fighters are thrown out at night in an unfamiliar wooded area with the task of marching 50 kilometers long, reaching a given point and installing a special sensor on a specific vehicle.

On the way, the fighters are waiting for the ambush of the “enemy”, the command constantly throws in new introductions, and the target vehicle is well guarded. In addition, fighters can land in the desert right during the “khamsin” sandstorm.

Their task is to cross the conditional state border, go to a given area and find a disguised enemy field airfield, determine its coordinates and transfer it to the headquarters for an aviation strike.

After that, the fighters improve their skills, learn to drive various equipment – from cars to tanks and armored personnel carriers. “Once I had a chance to observe the skill of their driving,” a source in the Israeli special services told the author of this text. “They drove at night, with their headlights off, at a speed of 180 kilometers per hour – and practically close to each other. If someone told me this, I would not believe it. “

Here is an example of one of the squad’s high-profile operations. In February 1992, a guerrilla war was in full swing in Lebanon, waged by Shiite fundamentalists from the Hezbollah and Amal movements. Hezbollah militants, led by Sheikh Mousavi, were especially annoying.

Finally, the Israeli special services managed to figure out the whereabouts of Mousavi. On February 16, 1992, rockets fired by Apache helicopters turned the sheikh’s car into a heap of scrap metal. It was the soldiers of the “Shaldag” squadron on the ground who coordinated the actions of the helicopters and gave the signal to attack. They were also ready to shoot the car from an ambush in case of an unsuccessful missile launch.

The Al-Aqsa intifada in the early 2000s added a separate line to the history of the unit. Then three-quarters of the leaders of the militants were destroyed after the attacks of helicopters, which were just aiming at the target “kingfishers”.

Reconnaissance, with the help of its agents, identified the locations of the militant leaders, and the Shaldag fighters provided hitting the right vehicle. Risking their lives, they secretly installed special sensors on the target or marked the object with a special compound.

Advanced air landing unit – 5700

One of the most closed and fewest Israeli Air Force special forces. It is intended for the selection, verification and preparation for use of advanced airfields (primarily field ones that do not have a hard surface) in order to deploy air force forces and conduct airborne assault by landing method.

Very little is known about the unit’s operations, as most of the unit’s operations are classified. It is known, however, that as early as 1947 in one of the largest military organizations of the Jewish Yishuv and the Zionist movement during the British mandate, groups (“Shlukhot”) began to operate to ensure the landing of aircraft outside the permanent bases.

The unit has only about 60 people and is supposedly divided into departments (“Gaf”). Among other things, there is the so-called Gaf Bhinat Afar – the department of soil analysis, includes geologists and specialists in the analysis of aerial photographs. He is engaged in preliminary analysis of the terrain prior to operations.

The unit selects only male volunteers with very high medical and psychological indicators, as well as a high level of security clearance.

The training of a fighter takes 10 months, it includes marches, military topography and orienteering classes. They practice the use of weapons and tactics – in particular, the procedure for organizing the defense of a field airfield.

Further, the cadets are divided according to specialties: soil analyst, aviation controller, orderly and driver. The training program ends with tactical and special exercises that last almost a week.

Initially, the unit consisted of reservists who served urgently in combat units and then underwent special training. It was deployed when necessary.

But due to the high workload at the beginning of this decade, the unit has become regular, and reservists are used for reinforcement as specialists. The number of conscripts is very small. For example, in November 2017, only ten recruits were drafted.

During the Lebanese War in 1982, Detachment 5700 captured and operated the Anzar runway on the seashore south of Beirut, and later created another runway in the Bekaa Valley. In 1984-1985, the unit took part in the repatriation of Ethiopian Jews through Sudan, ensuring their removal by air as part of Operation Moshe.

They also provided air humanitarian operations: for example, in Rwanda (in 1994), Bulgaria (after the terrorist attack in Burgas on July 18, 2012), India, Mexico.

Unit 669

The Aviation Rescue and Evacuation Unit was created in 1974 following an analysis of the Yom Kippur War. At that time, the main task of the unit was to rescue pilots shot down behind the front line, but over time, the tasks expanded.

Now this is, in particular, the evacuation of special forces personnel from behind the front line, medical aviation evacuation from the battlefield, and in peacetime – the evacuation and rescue of citizens in distress (rescue of sailors, tourists lost in the desert, evacuation of victims of car accidents) … To perform tasks, the unit uses UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters.

The unit also has conscripts who have expressed a desire to serve in this particular unit. But one desire is not enough – the candidate must have the highest grade of health status (medical profile 97).

For three days, fit candidates undergo a series of intensive screening physical and psychological tests (gibush), which check, in addition to physical fitness, willpower, initiative and the ability to improvise, cohesion and responsibility for comrades in group work.

Personnel training takes 18 months. The training program solves evacuation tasks in the face of enemy opposition. In the last week of the course, all the elements passed are checked in a complex and in a wide variety of conditions, evacuating crews under fire or performing rescue missions in natural disasters.

The training ends with the ceremony of presenting the coveted pin with the image of a cat, after which the personnel are entitled to participate in combat rescue operations.

Judging by the open data, at the end of the Second Lebanese War, Unit 669 carried out 94 evacuation operations (most of them under fire), during which 332 wounded and 16 bodies were removed. However, none of the wounded died on board the helicopter. This testifies to the high professionalism of the unit’s personnel, despite the fact that they are conscripts.

Conclusions for Russia

Is there anything in Israeli practice that could be borrowed by the Russian Armed Forces?

The Israeli Air Force Special Forces structure itself is quite original and solves original tasks. For example, the mission and use of the US Air Force MTR is very different from what the Israelis do. That there is only a division 5700 or “Sheldag”. But these units are aimed at fulfilling the tasks facing the IDF, in Russia there is nothing like this at all. There is an Air Force squadron, sharpened to interact with MTR units – that’s all.

As for search and rescue units, there are no such regular units in the Russian Armed Forces. In Russian practice, a separate order allocates certain crews, which, in accordance with the duty schedule, must take off to search and rescue the crew of the fallen side.

However, any non-staff unit can never be comparable in level of training with a full-time unit. The search, rescue and evacuation of crews of downed or crashed aircraft is a special tactic, special planning and interaction with support structures.

Many pilots were lost because of this. Unfortunately, losses among the flight personnel in such conditions have also occurred in recent times – in 2018 in Syria, pilot Roman Filipov died during a combat mission.

Yes, now the group of the rescue board on duty includes three armed servicemen – a medic, a parachutist and a survival specialist. But when, while rescuing the crew, the enemy hits the rescuer almost point-blank, the art of survival is not at all in the skills to find water or make a fire.

And in such conditions, having arrived at the place of rescue of an aircraft that has suffered an accident, the crew and rescuers are at great risk of increasing the number of irrecoverable losses, rather than reducing them.

The creation of a detachment similar to detachment 669 of the Israeli Air Force’s special forces could be useful for the Russian Air Force. Or maybe – the creation of the Special Operations Forces for the RF Air Force as a whole, which could also include a Shaldag-type unit.

The purposes of their use may differ, but the development of a clear interaction of ground-based special forces with air strike forces will not bring anything but benefit. When in Afghanistan each spetsnaz squad was assigned its own helicopter squadron, the interaction between the pilots and spetsnaz was greatly improved.

After that, the crew of the combat aircraft knew that it was not some abstract commander of special forces that was at war on the ground and was waiting for his help, but a specific Vasily or Sergei, with whom they had recently communicated.

Israel’s experience in this sense is at least something worth thinking about.


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