“IT was so disappointing! the flight plan that I have prepared so hard, has been cancelled in early morning. Now I got so many orders to meet squadron commander. What I thought, I didn’t pass the exam to attend the training in US and I have to stay in Indonesia as a low quality pilot. However after met the squadron commander, all the bad shadows disappeared, I turned out to receive new orders to fly the same format, but different routes. A complete map with many red dots was given to me. There is a red line that must be breached within twelve minutes then go outside. It makes me nervous, the red line is the border line between Israel and Syria”.
The narration above is a piece of the story from an Indonesian pilot who engaged in Alpha Operation, the largest secret mission of Indonesian air force to purchase 32 units of A-4 Skyhawk from Israel.
Here is an excerpt of Alpha Operation that collected from Djoko F Poerwoko’s autobiography book titled Menari di Angkasa (“Dancing in Space”).
Entering 1979, the issue of the renewal of Indonesian air force planes has started rolling. Due to the conditions of F-86 Sabre and T-33 Thunderbird were not feasible anymore. The government of Indonesia had to seek those who want to sell the aircrafts immediately. The The United States of America was just able to deliver 16 units of Northrop F-5E Tiger, but it was not enough to fill the squadron of Indonesian Air Force. Based on the intelligence extraction of Indonesian Military Headquarters (MABES), they obtained the news that Israel intends to release their A-4 skyhawk aircrafts, but Indonesia and Israel doesn’t have a diplomatic relationship. On the other hand, the purchase of the aircrafts eventually conducted through secret operation to avoid polemic in the community if published by media.
Towards Arizona, United States.
After the routine task of flying with F-86 Sabre, I had a last chance to fly again with the T-33. In fact, the performance of both planes becomes so weak. We were all so grateful, Indonesian air forces opened two major projects to build the new strength through Komodo Operation to bring Northrop F-5E Tiger from the United States, and Alpha Operation to bring A-4 Skyhawk from Israel.
The high level of confidentiality was seen based on how the procedures of personnel departure. When we were all ready to go, nobody knows, where do we go. Alpha Operation begins with sending seven technician teams of air squadron 11 as the first wave, and then followed by the last group which consists of 10 pilots to learn how to operate the new aircrafts.
As the last team, we received a briefing in air force headquarters. We were just told that the pilots will go to the United States for training, while the other information were still very hazy. After we finished for taking care all kinds of necessary papers connected to the United States, we were finally sent to Singapore with Garuda Indonesia flight from Halim Perdanakusuma Airport.
We landed at Paya Lebar Air Base, Singapore, in the evening and transferred to the Shangrila hotel. In the hotel there were some intelligence officers of Indonesian Military Headquarters and some foreigners who have been waiting for us, and we really doesn’t recognize those foreigner.We finally found the answer, that our destination was actually not toward to the United States but to Israel. Then an intelligence officer from BIA (Indonesian Military Intelligence Agency) who has been waiting for us, immediately took all of our passports and replaced them with special passports (SPLP). I was really shocked to see the presence of Maj. Gen. Leonardus Benyamin Moerdani, who invited us for dinner. At that time, Maj. Gen. Leonardus Benyamin Moerdani was the head of Indonesian Military Intelligence Agency. In that occasion, he told us with his cold face, “this mission is a secret mission, if you feels doubt, you’re allowed to go back. If this mission fails, the country will never recognize your citizenship. However, we will continue to pursue all means to bring you back. This mission will be considered successful if the dove (A-4 Skyhawk) has been landed at home”.
After listening to him, we feels anxiously as our first time to have such experience. I was asking my self, how we can bring 10 fighter jets to Indonesia without any single one knowing it?. Greater anxious comes again because our identities instantly changed, we had to remember our new names. Then, after the dinner in the Shangrila hotel, we had to immediately rush back to Singapore Paya Lebar Air Base and fly to Frankfurt with Lufthansa Boeing 747. In the plane, we were ordered not to speak each other, sitting apart, but still within the limits of visibility.
After landed in Frankfurt Airport, we had to switch planes again to get to the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. Our trip was increasingly strange when we just got off the plane and even still feeling jet lag, suddenly someone handed boarding pass to us for the next flight to the Tel Aviv, Israel.
When arriving at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport after about four hours flight, we had no idea what to do. We just glances at each other and following the other passengers to the exit gate, but unexpectedly, as part of an intelligence operation, we’ve experienced an unpleasant treatment, we were all suddenly arrested and escorted by airport security staff. We couldn’t do anything, because we doesn’t know what else to do as the next scenario, there was only fast heart beating.
I was thinking that my life will be finished. I was so shocked how could Mossad secret agents quickly found us. Although the Mossad agents treated us politely, but we were still thinking the worst possibility. We imagines we will be deported or executed or at least imprisoned for life. Because as we knows Indonesia has no diplomatic relationship with Israel, and I was imagining who gave us the order to come to Israel.
Finally we arrived in the crypt, we feels so calm after seeing the BIA (Indonesian Military Intelligence Agency) officers who were also involved in this operation. Then we found out that we were deliberately arrested as its scenario, our detention was part of special path to avoid public’s knowledge.
We immediately received a short briefing about the various things about Israel. We were also taught to memorize the number in Hebrew numerals, and we had to remember “Ani tayas mis Singapore” that means “we are pilot from Singapore”, there was also greeting like “boken tof” means good morning and “shallom” as the greeting when meeting the colleagues.
One night sleep in the hotel, we were then transported with a van heading to the south along the Dead Sea. After two days of traveling, we finally arrived in the city of Eilat. The trip continues through the middle of desert, after passing through several guard posts, the van finally arrived at the huge air force base in the west region of Eilat city.
In Israel, the air force base has never had a definite name. the air force base named just with number and can be changed any time. Today, it could be named “number nine”, but the next day, it could be replaced with other numbers. In accordance with the agreement, we call this place as the “Arizona” because since the beginning we were told we will receive flight training in the United States.
The total time for flight training in Israel was four month. During the training the pilots were taught from the basic to development, in order to be able to control the A-4 Skyhawk aircraft properly. Flight training begins with the general flying for two hours everyday, accompanied by Israeli instructors.
After that, we were all allowed to conduct solo fly. Exercise then followed by higher level of difficulty. This time we should be able to operate A-4 Skyhawk as a tool of war. In Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, there were variety of problems, but it does not bother our training. The main problem was absolutely the language and a very tight surveillance, because not all aviators of Israeli Air Force (IAF) could speak English, whereas we were not taught Hebrew in details.One of flight training lessons, for example maneuver formation doesn’t take time so long, the exercises were combined during free flying navigation or air to air maneuver. In this exercise session, I had ever penetrated the Syrian radar system with my Israeli instructor, we were so proud of it.
Our flight training ended on May 20, 1980, attended by Indonesian military officials with civilian clothes. Finally we got A-4 Skyhawk pilot license, we were so proud because we were trained by Israeli aviators. However, our happiness turned to be sad, after our license burned directly in front of our eyes by BIA officers. Then, we were gathered and told by BIA officers, “there will be no trace or evidence that you ever came here, just use your head to memorize all the lessons that have been obtained”.
Wing Day In The United States Of America.
After completing our flight training in Israel, we didn’t immediately return to Indonesia, but we were flown to the New York first. Overnight in New York, then taken to Buffalo Hill near Niagara Falls. We were sent to United States in order to erase our memories in Israel. We were given a lot of money to have fun in United States.
Finally, for any objects that shows the signs of the United States, must be directly used as background images. No exception to hotel gates, the shop name, even the garbage cans which US city names written on it. We were taken back to New York, then given a US tour for two weeks, sleeps in 10 different hotels and traveling with all transportation, from the aircrafts to the ships.In Yuma, Arizona, there was a scenario we had exercise in the air force station of US Marine Corps Base (USMC). Three days in the air force station, we were given the opportunity for A-4 Skyhawk flying lessons in USMC completed with the instructors.
We were also ordered to take the pictures, as if we had graduated as pilots of A-4 Skyhawk, and received a certificate of USMC version. that was as reinforcement of the intelligence camouflage, that we were indeed educated in the US. One of the mandatory picture was we were positioned in front of A-4 Skyhawk in USMC.
Before return home, I also got an order to memorize the results of All England badminton match. In addition, I also expected to memorize some important events that happened in the world during our training in Israel. Lessons about international events continues to be given, even though we’ve been in the board of Branif Airways plane with destination to Singapore.
The Dove Landed.
May 4, 1980, just a day before USAF C-5 Galaxy landed at the Indonesian air force base in Madiun with carrying the first wave of F-5E Tiger package and A-4 Skyhawk which consisting of two single-seater and two double-seater aircrafts arrived in Tanjung Priok port with ship. A-4 Skyhawk aircrafts were transported by ship directly from Israel, wrapped in plastic that labeled F-5E Tiger. So that, media will recognize, they were indeed F-5E tiger aircrafts.
Common Information and Analysis (CIA)
Wed, october 1, 2014