The six airmen who died in a Sikorsky "Yasour" CH-53 helicopter crash over the Romanian Carpathian Mountains Monday, July 26, were flown home Friday, July 30, for burial with full military honors.
debkafile's military sources report: The Israeli Air Force had been drilling high-risk attacks on precipitous cliff caves similar to the mountain tunnels in which Iran has hidden nuclear facilities. The crash occurred in the last stage of a joint Israeli-US-Romanian exercise for simulating an attack on Iran. Aboard the helicopter were six Israeli airmen and a Romanian flight captain.
Thwarted by Moscow's refusal to sell them S-300 interceptor missiles, Iran has given up on adequate air and missile defense shields for its nuclear sites and in the last couple of years has been blasting deep tunnels beneath mountain peaks more than 2,000 meters high for housing nuclear facilities. There, they were thought by Tehran to be safe from air or missile attack.
The American and Israeli air forces have since been developing tactics for evading Iranian radar and flying at extremely low-altitudes through narrow mountain passes so as to reach the tunnel entrances for attacks on the nuclear equipment undetected. The drill in Romania took place at roughly the same altitude and in similar terrain that a US or Israeli air attack would expect to encounter in Iran.
For such strikes, special missiles would be used that are capable of flying the length of a tunnel, however twisty, and detonating only when its warhead identifies and contacts its target.
The entire maneuver is extremely hazardous. The pilots must be exceptionally skilled, capable of split-second timing in rising from low-altitudes to points opposite the high tunnel entrances without crashing into the surrounding mountain walls.
The Israeli helicopter is reported to have flown into a cloud patch hanging over its simulated target and crashed into a steep mountainside, while the second helicopter flying in the formation avoided the cloud and continued without incident. Israeli and American Air Force pilots are instructed, when encountering cloud cover of the target, to go around it. At all times, they must have eye contact with their target.
The accident revealed to military observers that the Israeli Air Force is practicing long-distance flights not only by bombers, but also heavy helicopters, such as the "Yasour" CH-53, which would require in-flight refueling. These practice flights have been taking place in cooperation with Greece and Bulgaria as well as Romania, whose distance from Israel of 1,600 kilometers approximates that of Iran. American air bases in Romania and Bulgaria participate in the drills. The latest exercise with Romania, known as Blue Sky 2010, followed up on the five-day US-Israeli Juniper Stallion 2010 war game held off the coast of southern Israel from June 6-10.
In that exercise, 60 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet bomber jets took off from the decks of the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group several times around the clock to strike at simulated targets at Nevatim, the main Israeli Air Force firing range in the Negev.
Squadrons of American F-16 fighter jets taking off from bases in Germany and Romania landed at Israeli air bases, refueled and took off with Israeli air force bomber squadrons for simulated long-range bombing missions over the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Along the way, they practiced air-to-air combat encounters.
The US Air Force has established its Romanian facility at the Mikhail Kogalniceanu Air Base on the Black Sea shore near the city of Constanta. And in Bulgaria, the Americans have the use of Bezmer Air Base, 50 kilometers from the southern sector of the Black Sea. debkafile's military sources say the two facilities are placed for swift US Air Force responses in the Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East.