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Top Pilot Says IAF Training Cuts Shekel-Wise and Pound Foolish

The state may save money by allowing the IDF to suspend air force training, but the savings could cost Israelis a lot, says a top pilot.
By Yaakov Levi
First Publish: 5/29/2014, 3:54 PM

F-15I on display
F-15I on display
Flash 90

The IAF decision to suspend training flights will “cost the state,” a top Air Force official told Arutz Sheva in an interview on Thursday.

Ran Packer, now a reserve duty IAF pilot and former deputy director of the Tel Nof Air Force Base, said that even a day of lost training could cause pilots to be off their game if they were needed for emergency missions.

“Planes today are very sophisticated battle implements, and training on them is expensive,” Packer said. “But these systems require highly trained pilots. Without the proper training Israel could be facing serious problems, such as accidents by pilots who are not qualified to fly these planes. Those accidents could cost the state millions, not to mention the cost in human lives that could result.”

IAF fighter jet commanders were informed on Tuesday evening that due to IDF budget cuts, it was decided that starting next Sunday no more training flights will be conducted. According to the decision, flights would only be carried out as part of actual operations, in instances requiring on-call alertness and at flight school. All training would be halted.

The decision was made with the support of Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

A senior security official said last week the Defense Ministry tried to convince the Finance Ministry to send an immediate 750 million shekels ($215 million) to fund joint expenses for minimal maintenance, training and drills. So far there has been no response, the official said.

According to Packer, IAF officials keep a close watch on pilots' capabilities, ensuring that they are as ready as possible at any and all times. “Halting exercises for even a short amount of time could be a very serious problem,” he said.

If the IDF needs to cut from operations or training, the Air Force should be last on the list, Packer added.

“I have great respect for the Paratroopers, the Tank Corps, the Navy, and all the others. But the only defensive weapon that Israel has that can attack Cairo in the morning, Damascus in the afternoon and Baghdad at night belongs to the Air Force. Planes are the main strategic weapon in the Middle East and we cannot damage their capabilities,” he said.

An IDF spokesperson said that defense officials were informed of the importance of exercises, and that the IDF had organized an effective schedule for them. The spokesperson said that the IDF warned that at the end of May 2014 the funds for the training would come to an end, and “difficult choices will have to be made.”