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Bekaa Valley combat
F.I.: Which aircraft were used in the recent Lebanon operation and what were their roles?
IAF: Kfirs were extensively used for the first time in this war. In some areas they showed more success than the F-15s or F-16s. And maybe more than we expected. And maybe we didn't know exactly what to expect. Everybody is always talking of the F-15 and F-16, which had only a relatively small part in the overall activity.
F.I.: So which aircraft was the workhorse?
IAF: The Kfir and Phantom.
F.I.: їow were they used?
IAF: Mainly in the air-to-ground war, but with some use in the air-to-air arena. And air-to-air, their success rate was not less that the F-15s and F-16s. I'm not saying they can be an equivalent, of course they F-15 and F-16 are much better and more advanced. But sometimes who is sitting in the cockpit couts far more that what the cockpit looks like. We had overall success with Kfirs and F-4s in the air-to-air role, even thought they were used more air-to-ground, where Kfir's accuracy is amazing .
F.I.: Accuracy in what way?
IAF: їitting tanks or artillery, or hitting the right targets within a very short distance of our troops was done accurately by Kfirs and Phantoms. The A-4 were used only for close support.
F.I.: What about the new top-attack antitank weapon?
IAF: I don't know about it, or who told you about it, but we used several weapons against tanks. The usual weapons ***, like the anti-tank rocket and armour piercing rockets, proved quite effective. Especially with the accuracy of our new intertiar platform and weapon arming systems in the A-4, F-4, and Kfir. Zunis and 2.75in rockets were the main anti-tank weapon, but regular bombs are also effective against T-34, T-55, and T-62, but not against the T-72.
F.I.: Why not?
IAF: The T-72 has much thicker armour, and we didn't have the chance to bomb then so we don't know. As a matter of fact we don't have any T-72s, the (the Syrians) took them all back. Those tanks destroyed by the army, we captured, those destroyed by the air force stayed in their hands. So we don't have a T-72 to say what weapon knocked it out. We used bombs, rockets, *** and TOWs from the ground. From distance we fired, we couldn't tell if it was a t_62 or a T-72.
F.I.: Are you implying from this that a top-attack antitank missile could knock out a T-72?
IAF: From above the armour is much thinner that in front … it is true that top armour usually thinner .
F.I.: What lessons have you learned and what, if any, equipment changes will you make as a result of these lessons?
IAF: Even at General Staff meetings, I start by saying we should be very careful in drawing lessons from this very limited, very restricted war. We didn't fly as much as we could. We could fly three or four times as much as we did. We flew within a space of 15 to 30 miles, we didn't cross the Syrian border, we didn't their military base or other strategic targets. Some things, techniques and tactics here and there, some weapons and aircraft which we found things out about or expected to work differently, but that is in the micro, not the macro, scene. In the macro there maybe some lessons we can draw on, but I cannot tell you them because that in something we may use next week. But in the breakdown of enemy kills, I'll tell you than *** of the enemy attack aircraft were downed, *** of their helicopters (Gazelles), *** of their interceptors.
F.I.: What about the reconnaissance MiG-25?
IAF: Two MiG-25s were shot down before the war, but they were interceptors.
F.I.: їow was the MiG-25R shot down?
IAF: We don't intend to publish how it was shot down.
F.I.: їow does the Foxbat compare with the F-15?
IAF: It is only fast at high altitude, but has poor maneuverability, and is very “lazy” at low altitude where its speed is limited. It is heavy, with very poor visibility. The F-15 is opposite.
F.I.: So they have nothing comparable with the F-15?
IAF: Nothing. Maybe in Russia, but not in Syria. It is possible to compare it with anything in the situation we had. I can compare its turn rate and rates of climb from Jans. But I can't compare understand or into a situation that I would never get into. So any comparison with a Kfir, Phantom or F-15 would be out of context. My opinion, not an assessment an opinion, is that Russian aircraft are very good from what we know of their abilities and from what we've seen they can do. The problem was that their (Syrian) plots didn't do things at the right time or in the right place. They flew in a way vere difficult to understand. That's why their losses were so high.
F.I.: Was this because of the individual pilots or their command?
IAF: In believe it was a combination. Maybe it started with a command decision that was not in touch with what was really happening in the field. And the pilots behaved as if they knew they were going to happen and not how to prevent it, or how to shot us down. Which was strange, because in the 1973 war the Syrians fought agressively. This time it was different, so it was difficult to compare the aircraft. They could have flown the best aircraft in the world, but if they flew it the way they were flying, we would have shot down in exactly the same way. It wasn't the equipment at fault, but their tactics. Look at the area of operations and the restrictions we had we couldn't enter Syria. They were only two minutes from their bases, while we were between 10 and 40 min from base, some of our aircraft had to come from Ouvda down in Negev. Most of the kills, 85-90 %, were in the Bekaa Valley., less than a minute from Syrian borders. In meant we only had two minutes from crossing to crossing back if they only wanted to sweep the Bekaa area. If we didn't follow them across the border. That was a difficult situation for us. Maybe for them as well.
F.I.: You give the impression that the Syrians were sitting ducks?
IAF: They fired missiles, they fought, but in a peculiar way. I didn't mean they were sitting ducks but in our view they acted without tactical sence. Maybe in their view the best tactic was to get away from - I don't know what. But the results show it was were strange, we're still trying to asses what were trying to do.
F.I.: Because of the area restruction, did you favor gun attacks rather than missiles?
IAF: Not exclusively, but we shot down many with guns, a big percentage with our own Shafrir and some with all types of the Sidewinder we have. And we used the Sparrow. Surprisingly we had a much higher rate of gun kills that we expected. In such a small area with many aircraft we had to get very close to visually identify aircraft, as we were in close, we used guns.
F.I.: Did you use the Sparrow beyond visual range?
IAF: We couldn't. We used the Sparrow but only within visual range.
F.I.: Which missile was most effective?
IAF: The Shafrir, but some types of Sidewinder were quite effective. The guns were missed.
F.I.: What types of electronic warfare were used?
IAF: You don't expect us to tell you that, do you? Electronic warfare was used all the place, all the time, by both sides.
F.I.: Was the їawkeye effective?
IAF: It was used all the time. It can close the gaps in ground radar and lets us see the targets as they take off, never mind where they are within 200 miles.
F.I.: їow did you out the SAM sites?
IAF: It is difficult to tell you, for publication. Since we've not finished the war against the SAMs, all the ideas, tactics and weapon we have for them. Knocking them out was much simpler that some of the press reports imply. If I told you it was done with conventional iron bombs you wouldn't believe me. But that is how we did it - with bombs, coming in very low and destroying then one by one. It is true we used many deception techniques, decoys and electronic warfare to help us get in, but we destroyed them with bombs.
F.I.: їow did the Syrians counter your attacks?
IAF: They have the most complex and dense SAM system in the world: SAM-6, SAM-3, SAM-2. They are three or four Gun Dishes on every battles ( Gun Dish is the fire control radar used with both SAM-9 and the ZSU-23-4 self propelled quad-23mm AAA system) plus 23mm, 37mm, and 57mm AAA. They knew we were going to attack. They welcomed it, they were ready. The only thing is they put too much faith in their SAMs. Maybe they were misled by their initial success in the 1973 war. In the first few days then, we had to fight the Egyptian armour crossing thw Suez Canal and were vulnerable to the SAMs. But afterwards we destroyed 43 SAM batteries on the Egyptian side. If the Syrians had studied that war well, they would have seen that we knocked them out with the same method as we did today. The Syrians have invested 75% of their defense budget on ground-to-air defense. They've got three times as many SAM battries as in 1973. They have 80000 of their regular soldiers on SMs, only the best - educated ones. They have 1000 tanks without crews as a result.
I don't known … they were so sure that we'd knock our heads on the SAMs; that they would work as the Russians said they would. Maybe they were led to believe that mobility would solve their problems. They forgot that with mobility you forsake the protection of being dug in under cement cover, like they used to be. So when they are mobile they're above ground. Once above ground, a cluster bomb will knock out a whole battery. So the only problem is to find the battery.
F.I.: What about the use of drones against the SAMs?
IAF: We did use drones, but not specifically against SAMs. Drone use was exaggerated by Press reports. They're in the evaluation stage. It is a new weapon. We use drones throughout the war , that we used them on the days we knocked out the SAMs too, but not specifically for than reason, mainly to locate ground forces to attack them. But we used RPVs in all kinds of ways. We used them as decoys and for reconnaissance. And we used mini RPWs (IAI Scout). But the used of drones was exaggerated by the Press . I believe that we really don't yet know what it means to operate such a weapon.
F.I.: Are SAMs too highly rated?
IAF: I've mentioned the 1973 war. I don't know if you know, but in that war the Syrians and Egyptians together launched some 2600 SAMs. They hit only 39 of our aircraft. The rest of the 102 aircraft we lost were hit by AAA. By the way, they also shot down 45 of their own aircraft. The capabilities of their SAM system were exaggerated. They were led to believe that they were defended, with a clear sky, under the SAM umbrella. That's why they invested so much in the system. But in this war they lost 100 aircraft and all their SAMs in Lebanon. I believe the Syrians in a dilemma today.
F.I.: Then Russians are also in an air defense dilemma?
F.I.: Is it equipment or an operator problem? If Israelis had manned the SAM batteries, would the result have been different?
IAF: I don't think so. They made several mistakes but they did he best they could with the equipment they have. I believe that deficiencies of SAMs are such that, for us, it will never a primary weapon.
F.I.: Why not?
IAF: It's a passive system. You invest money and manpower in a system which sits and waits for an air force to fly over it. An aircraft can be used for other purposes. I quoted the launching 2600 missiles in the 73 war. We launched 40-50 їawks and killed 22 MiGs.
F.I.: So the їawk is superior weapon?
IAF: The way we launch SAMs is different to the way they do. It's not because їawk is superior. If we had SA-2s, SA-6s, or SA-8s, we would have launched then in the some way. We launch only when the target is identified as an enemy. They launch whenever they can't identify it, they don't care if it is ours or theirs.
F.I.: Why didn't they hit their targets in this war?
IAF: We took care of that.
IAF: ( lauging ) I wish I knew!
F.I.: їow did your attack helicopters perform?
IAF: We used two types, the Bell Aї-1 Cobra and the їughes 500 MD Defender. They were used in smakk numbers and with great caution, mainly because we don't have a lot of experience with such weapons. I can't deny we had quite good success, on the other hand, the survivability of the attack helicopter, mainly in the environment in which we operated, *** is very low compared with a fighter. That is, unless you plan it very carefully, which we did. We planned each sortie very carefully, that's why our. Survivability rate was not very high, but acceptable.
F.I.: So some Cobras and Defenders were shot down?
IAF: One Cobra was shot down, and that's a lot for us, ***.
F.I.: You preferred the Kfir to helicopters for ground attack?
IAF: Don't draw lessons from this war. In they penetrated the Golan їeights with 3000 tanks, then the Cobra and Defenders would be the best weapon in the first few hours. That's what we bought them for. But in the type of war we had in Lebanon, where we're advancing, the helicopters are operating over “unclean” ground and the survivability is lower. In that situation, the Kfir is more effective. But don't draw the wrong conclusion. The Cobra can be an excellent or a poor weapon, depending on different threats in different areas. We were not dissapointed in the Cobra's performance. We knew in advance that it was not the best type of weapon for this area. But we killed *** tanks and *** other targets, such as Katyusha rocket launchers, APCs, and artillery with the Cobra. So in summary I can say that Cobra may be an effective weapons, but its survivability is not.
F.I.: Why not?
IAF: Because is flies low, is not protected and every soldier with a Kalashnikov can shot it down. Very simple.
F.I.: Throughout this interview you have pointed out the qualitative factor in combat with the Syrians. Why are Israeli pilots so good?
IAF: I don't think we are so good. I think we've a long way to go to be as good as people are saying we are. What we do, I think it is part of it, is that during training and in day-do-day life between wars, we have a very cruel system of screening. We keep only the best. It's a system of daily competition.
F.I.: To what extent does your pilot training differ from that of other air forces?
IAF: It is different on almost every point. It is more the mentality in flying, the way we use aircraft, and the authority delegated to squadron commander level. We delegate, we don't all at them from this office how to do things. We want results. And we let them find the right way to get the results. We don't have thick books, on how to do everything, like every other air force I know of. Each squadron has its own rules and they interchange ideas all the time. So you get a spectrum of ideas, tactics, and techniques, that bring you to a higher level. Coupled with the competition and delegation of authority to lower levels, it leads in the end to a higher level of combat proficiency. But we're far from perfect. In this war, you could say we had several successes. But if youl'd sat in on the de-briefings you would have thought we were discussing a disaster with the whole Israeli Air Force having been wiped out. That's how people were talking: to find out what went wrong.
“Flight International”, ю3832, 16.10.1982 The article has typed and has sent V.Mihalin
- It is interview of a representative of the Israeli Air Forces about combats in Lebanon, given the correspondent of the "Flight International". *** are marked editing of the Israeli censorship. The name of a representative is not indicated.
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