Israel’s Cypriot training


Babak Taghvaee reports on the recent Israeli series of exercises held on the island of Cyprus

One of three AH-64Ds involved in exercises IASON 2019 and Nikoklis Down 2019 loaded with two 230-gallon external tanks, CATM-114K Hellfire and Spike NLOS captive training missiles.
Babak Taghvaee

The Israeli Defense Force held two exercises dubbed IASON 2019 and Nikoklis David 2019 for its specialist guerrilla warfare commandos assigned to the Egoz unit in late May. Fourteen Israeli Air Force squadrons took part operating 20 aircraft, 17 helicopters and two UAVs around Akamas, Cyprus; it was the largest overseas exercise ever held by the Israel Defense Force.

Exercise ops

Paphos International airport was used to transport the commandos, their equipment, maintenance personnel, their ground equipment and special tools. Airlift was provided by three Nevatim-based transport squadrons: the C-130J-equipped 103 ‘The Elephants Squadron’; the KC-707-equipped 120 ‘The International Squadron’; and the KC-130H-equipped 131 ‘The Yellow Bird Squadron’. Two KC-130Hs refuelled two S-65C-5 Ya’surs on their transit from Tel Nof Air Base.

Egoz commandos board a C-130H Karnaf for their flight back to Israel.
Mike Yudin/Israeli Air Force

Unlike the 2018 editions, Israeli S-65C-5 Ya’sur 2025 heavy transport and AH-64A Peten and AH-64D Saraf attack helicopters forward deployed to Andrea Papandreou Air Base, a Cypriot National Guard base near Paphos, without being redeployed to Israel every night.

Numerous Apache aircrews had the opportunity to practise simulated firings of AGM-114 Hellfire and Spike NLOS/non line of sight (AH-64Ds only) air-to-ground missiles from medium altitude, each conducting its mission in conjunction with Hermes 450 Zik UAVs This year’s Cyprus deployment was the first time in the Israeli Air Force’s history any of its UAV squadrons deployed overseas to participate in a military exercise. A command-and-control vehicle was airlifted to Cyprus on board a C-130J. UAV pilots and sensor operators carried out surveillance and reconnaissance to detect targets and direct Egoz commandos, Apaches and Cypriot National Guard SA-342L-1 Gazelle and Mi-35P Hind attack helicopters to the targets.

Target types included camouflaged bunkers, cave entrances in rugged terrain within the Trodoos mountains and enemy hideouts in abandoned villages within the Akamas district. Attack helicopter aircrew also practised detection of enemy vehicles, armoured tanks, vehicles, artillery and hideouts from high altitude and simulated missile engagements against them.

Most missions were conducted under a constant threat of enemy short and mediumrange surface-to-air missiles: systems like the Tor M1 (SA-15 Gauntlet) and Buk M1-2 (SA-17 Grizzly) operated by the Cypriot National Guard. Equipped with sophisticated selfprotection systems, infrared missile warning systems and radar warning receiver sensors, Apache pilots flew evasive manoeuvres to avoid enemy radar lock-on. Five AH- 64A Peten and three AH-64D Saraf attack helicopters were involved.

One of two KC-130Hs arrived at Paphos on May 20 with Egoz commandos on board.
Nuphar Blitt/Israeli Air Force

Ya’sur 2025s

This year’s exercise involved S-65C-5 Ya’sur- 2025s; Israel’s fleet of 12 is based at Tel Nof Air Base. The Ya’sur 2025 is equipped with renewed main gearboxes and zero-timed General Electric T64-GE-413 turboshaft engines, an automatic hovering and altitude system, advanced avionics, touchscreen multifunction displays, the latest electronic warfare systems, satellite communications, updated data links and the Elbit Systems’ Helicom network-centric communications system. Ya’sur 2025s are probably the Israeli Air Force’s best asset for long-range heavy assault and insertion and extraction of commandos, which are also used by a specialised unit for combat search and rescue (CSAR).

Nine Ya’sur 2025s were involved in the initial phase of the exercise, two were flown to Paphos and participated in CSAR training near Akamas and aerial refuelled by two KC-130Hs. In the final phase of the exercise, six Ya’sur 2025s airlifted 180 Egoz commandos from Tel Nof to Akamas to simulate an insertion of troops into an unfamiliar environment; six Apaches supported the mission providing close air support. The commandos were extracted from the area by Ya’sur 2025s the following day. CSAR cover was provided by two other Ya’surs carrying specialised rescue teams. The operation faced adversary threats in the shape of two Cyprus National Guard Mi-35Ps and an SA-342L-1 Gazelle. The local Cyprus National Guard AW139s also participated flying joint CSAR missions with Ya’sur 2025s both day and night.

All of the helicopters involved in the final scenario returned to Andreas Papandreou Air Base for refuelling before returning back to Israel that afternoon; the Ya’sur 2025s transporting helicopter maintenance technicians.

Combat air patrols

Two F-15As and two F-15Cs provided combat air patrol and escort to the Ya’sur 2025s, KC-130Hs and C-130Js transporting maintenance technicians and commandos to Cyprus on May 20, the day Turkish Air Force F-16s, supported by a KC-135R tanker, were on combat air patrol above a Turkish Navy Barbaros-class Frigate protecting the Turkish Fatih Drill Ship underway a few kilometres from Cypriot territorial waters to the southwest of Paphos. Support to the Eagles was provided by two variants of the G550 Nachshon: a Shavit signals intelligence aircraft and an Eitam airborne early warning aircraft. Both aircraft monitored Turkish military activity near Cypriot waters and assisted the F-15s maintaining combat air patrol. Israel’s concern was centred on the Turkish Air Force Block 42 F-16Cs protecting the Turkish Navy Frigate.

Finally, on May 27 and 28, the Israeli commandos deployed to Cyprus were afforded top cover by F-35i Adir fighters, fifthgeneration combat air patrols over Cyprus. AI

Ya’sur 2025 040 landing at Akamas carrying a Land Rover Defender and Egoz commandos.
118 Squadron/ Israeli Air Force