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by Luby Prytulak

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First posted 03 April 2013 05:32pm, last edited 04 May 2013 10:24am

The account below attempts to encourage radical innovation in education by amplifying a theme introduced in Explicit Transformational Syllabus (XTS) — that seemingly complex and intractable problems sometimes have simple solutions, as was exemplified in the simple solving of seemingly impossible area problems and in the simple solving of seemingly impossible educational problems.  The account below, then, amplifies the same theme by detailing another example, that of the simple solving of the seemingly complex and intractable problem of having 102 of one's warplanes shot down by surface-to-air missiles.

Such belief in the possibility of simple solutions to complex problems needs to be encouraged because all of our educational problems do seem complex, and because simple solutions are the only ones that have any chance of being implemented, and the only ones that society can afford.

To begin, then, in the 1973 Yom Kippur War (alternatively known as the October War or the War of Atonement), Israel suffered heavy losses of aircraft to Soviet surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), as is recollected by Major-General Chaim Herzog:

[Col.] Yair saw Israeli planes coming in to stem the advancing masses [of tanks], but one after the other they were shot down before his eyes.  [p. 79]

Israeli losses were a total of 102 planes of which according to Minister of Defence Dayan, 50 were lost in the first three days.  The bulk of the Israeli losses were caused by missiles and conventional anti-aircraft fire, with the number divided between the two, particularly during close-support missions.  [p. 260]

Chaim Herzog, The War of Atonement: October 1973, Little, Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1975.]

The view from the other side of the conflict is typified by Mohammed Omadi:

It was wonderful to see all those Israeli planes shot down by our missiles — their air force was supposed to be even better than the Americans'.  I was really proud.

Robert Keatley, Wall Street Journal  11-Apr-1974

Newspaper clipping recounting Mohammed Omadi's pleasure at seeing Israeli planes downed by Soviet SAM missiles during Yom Kippur War

Although the war formally ended with the ceasefire of 25-Oct-1973, hostilities continued on a lower scale.  For example, 02-Apr-1974 marked the 22nd consecutive day of tank and artillery duels with Syrian forces on the Golan Heights.  Surprisingly, though, Israeli warplanes were nowhere to be seen throughout the post-ceasefire fighting.  For some six months, the Israeli Air Force absented itself from all combat.  The Syrians, emboldened by Israeli losses during the war, and by Israel's unprecedented absence from the skies, were increasingly menacing, and the Israelis increasingly concerned:

Responding to reports of substantial Syrian reinforcement of their frontline units, the Cabinet convened an extraordinary Sabbath-eve session to hear reports on the situation from Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and the top army command.  Military sources said that Israel's forces would remain on full alert over the weekend.

The atmosphere was reminiscent in many ways of the Yom Kippur weekend Oct. 5, when the combined armies of Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack.

New York Times, 06-Apr-1974, p. 5

But what Syria had not anticipated, and what ultimately dampened its renewed bellicosity, is that during the Israeli Air Force's six-month absence, it had undergone a transformation, a transformation which began to be field-tested on 03-Apr-1974 with the resumption of overflights, and put to a tougher test three days later, on 06-Apr-1974, by Israeli resumption of bombings, neither of which occasioned any Israeli losses.  The Israeli Air Force had regained its invulnerability, and has kept it ever since.

So, what happened?  What new protective envelope had Israel wrapped around its warplanes?

Perhaps the answer begins with a 26-Oct-1973 letter sent to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and five other Israeli officials.

Post Office receipts for six letters mailed to Moshe Dayan and five other Israeli officials recommending the use of thermal balloons

Letter to Moshe Dayan and five other Israeli officials recommending the use of heat balloons to deflect Soviet SAM missiles, p. 1

Letter to Moshe Dayan and five other Israeli officials recommending the use of heat balloons to deflect Soviet SAM missiles, p. 2

Letter to Moshe Dayan and five other Israeli officials recommending the use of heat balloons to deflect Soviet SAM missiles, p. 3

An Israeli reply to the above had not been expected.  From the Israeli point of view, if the heat-balloons idea was meritless, any communication with its originator would only encourage his submission of additional meritless ideas; and if the idea did have merit, acknowledging that it did would increase the probability that the originator might bruit it about, thereby decreasing Israeli lead time.  But despite expectations, a reply was received from Dr. M. Simhi, Head of Radar and Electronic Countermeasures:

Envelope containing Dr. M. Simhi's reply to Luby Prytulak's first thermal-balloons letter

Dr. M. Simhi's reply to Luby Prytulak's first thermal-balloons letter

Additional letters were written, the one to Dr. Simhi shown below recommending a foam variant of the heat balloons idea, and others to American officials on the same subjects and further variations thereof not reproduced here:

Registration Receipt for Luby Prytulak second letter to Dr. M. Simhi, head of Radar and Electronic Countermeasures, Ministry of Defence, Israel

Luby Prytulak second letter to Dr. M. Simhi, head of Radar and Electronic Countermeasures, Ministry of Defence, Israel

And the result seems to have been that heat balloons came into use six months after my original 26-Oct-1973 proposal, and four months after Dr Simhi's 24-Dec-1973 reply, illustrating how quickly an idea can be implemented when the need is urgent:

Toronto Star  20-Apr-1974


Globe and Mail  20-Apr-1974

Israeli warplanes fool Syria's deadly missiles with balloons
Israeli warplanes fool Syria's deadly missiles with balloons

Time  02-Dec-1974

Israelis learn to counter dreaded Soviet SAMs
Israelis learn to counter dreaded Soviet SAMs

Time  08-Jun-1981

And seven years after the mailing of my 10-Jul-1974 foam suggestion I came across what looked like its realization.  As my perusing of the media has always been cursory and sporadic, an appearance of an implementation such as this one usually should not be taken to be a first appearance.

Newspaper clipping describing brilliant flashes of light released by planes to attract and deflect missiles

New York Times  05-Nov-1983

It is not merely the case that heat balloons were initially tested but quickly supplanted — more than nine years after their first deployment they were still in use, as evidenced by the four articles immediately below:

Newspaper clipping describing Israeli pilots loosing orange colored balloons as decoys against surface-to-air missiles

New York Times  17-Nov-1983

Newspaper clipping describing Israeli warplanes spewing thermal balloons to confuse surface-to-air missiles

Prescott Arizona Courier  04-Dec-1983

French Super Etendard fighter-bombers are equipped with "scarlet heat balloons" too.

Israeli warplanes, including French Etendard fighter-bombers, release scarlet heat balloons over Lebanon
Israeli warplanes, including French Etendard fighter-bombers, release scarlet heat balloons over Lebanon
Israeli warplanes, including French Etendard fighter-bombers, release scarlet heat balloons over Lebanon

New York Times  05-Dec-1983

Of course Americans are privy to all this information, and share its benefits.  The downing by Soviet SA-7 missiles of both an Israeli Kfir and an American A-7E Corsair brings to mind the recognition that without constant fine-tuning and upgrading, weaponry begins to fail.

Newspaper clipping describing the spewing of heat balloons as protection against surface-to-air missiles

Newspaper clipping describing the spewing of heat balloons as protection against surface-to-air missiles

Newspaper clipping describing the spewing of heat balloons as protection against surface-to-air missiles

Globe and Mail  04-May-1984

"Infrared grenades" creating a hot screen to protect against heat-seeking missiles sounds very much like an offshoot of the foam variant.  Use in protecting tanks was explicitly suggested in my letter of 26-Oct-1973.

Newspaper clipping describing protection of tanks behind hot-cloud screen

Globe and Mail  28-Nov-1984

Showing surface-to-air missiles being launched, but unable to find their targets the way they had been finding them during the Yom Kippur War.

Newspaper clipping showing Soviet missiles unable to hit Israeli planes

Wall Street Journal  12-Jan-1989

So-called "flares" sound like offshoots of the foam variant.  Igniting balloon or foam was suggested in my later letters that are not reproduced above.

Newspaper clipping making reference to use of flares to fool heat-seeking missiles

And turning to the Internet for more current developments, it becomes evident from the reports below that approaching 29 years after first deployment, heat balloons continue to play an integral role not only in Israeli aerial warfare, but in all aerial warfare.

The citizens of Lebanon may have seen more heat balloons in their skies than any other people on earth.  Extracted from an 08-Mar-1999 letter from the Lebanese United Nations Representative to the United Nations Secretary-General  are the following mentions:

03-Feb-1999  Between 1300 and 1525 hours Israeli warplanes overflew the South at various altitudes.  They dropped heat balloons in the Tyre area and carried out mock attacks in the Iqlim al-Tuffah area.

17-Feb-1999  Between 0830 and 1100 hours Israeli warplanes overflew the South and the coastal area of the Shuf at high altitudes dropping heat balloons in the Tyre area.

17-Feb-1999  Between 1220 and 1600 hours Israeli warplanes overflew the South at high altitudes dropping heat balloons in the Tyre area.

22-Feb-1999  At 1415 hours Israeli warplanes attacked Wadi Yarin, between Butm and Zibqin, firing two air-to-ground missiles. They continued on and overflew Nabatiyah at low altitudes dropping heat balloons.

The report immediately below is especially significant for revealing that the SAMs do not explode upon contact with the "heat balloons", but rather become disoriented, which is what would be expected from a foam variant "spitting in the missile's eye", as had been recommended in the second Prytulak letter to Dr. M. Simhi, dated 10-Jul-1974:

Capturing the News: Three Decades of Reporting Crisis and Conflict
Anthony Collings, University of Missouri Press, 2010, p. 53

I'll never forget the sound of those Israeli planes, sent to Beirut by the government of Menachem Begin.  [...]  There would be the whoosh and flash of Soviet-made surface-to-air missiles fired by the Palestinians in hopes of hitting the planes.  There would be the bright pinpoints of light darting out from the planes and slowly falling as the Israeli pilots expelled heat balloons to deflect the heat-seeking missiles, and there would be the curves of the missiles' trajectories away from the plane.

One more indication that the use of heat balloons might be better described as ceaseless than intermittent:

War Memories: No More Iffs.. Israelis, You Are STUCK !!
Eslam al-Rihani    15-Jul-2012

[...]  Enemy warplanes bombed northern Lebanon, throwing projectiles and heat balloons over the regions of Mdairej, Dahr-el-Baidar, Akkar, al-Assi bridge in the city of Hermel, Hemmana Heights, Kfar Zabad, Qaa-Homs international highway, Damascus-Beirut international highway and many other vital points.  [...]

The Aleppo University explosions of 15-Jan-2013 in the midst of the Syrian Civil War have been variously attributed, one explanation being that they were caused by SAMs diverted from their targets by heat balloons, from which can incidentally be inferred that Russian-supplied MIGS now also come equipped with heat balloons:

Dozens Killed as Explosions Hit Syrian University
By HWAIDA SAAD and RICK GLADSTONE   New York Times   January 15, 2013

Aleppo University Explosions may have been caused by heat balloons deflecting SAMs
Explosions erupted at Aleppo University as students were taking exams on Tuesday.  The attack's source was unclear.

[...]  One student said that insurgent fighters just outside Aleppo who apparently were armed with a heat-seeking missile fired it at a MIG fighter, that the pilot dropped a heat balloon as an evasive tactic, and that the missile followed the balloon and then exploded near a military post adjacent to the university dormitories.  That account, however, did not explain the second explosion.

Other students also reported seeing what they described as heat balloons before the explosions.  Some said the dormitories were hit by one missile, and that other missiles struck the buildings that house the university's architecture and humanities departments.  [...]

The following two reports are the most recent that have been found to date:

Israeli Aircraft Drop Heat Balloons Off Naqoura
by Naharnet Newsdesk    18 March 2013

Israeli warplance protected by heat balloons off Naqoura, Lebanon

Israeli aircraft on Monday released scarlet heat balloons over Lebanon's regional waters, in the first such violation in around a year.

"Israeli warplanes dropped more than 30 scarlet heat balloons between Naqoura and Tyre within two hours," state-run National News Agency reported.

Meanwhile, LBCI television said Israeli warplanes fired "five flare bombs over the sea off Tyre's coast."

Earlier on Monday, the Lebanese army issued statements about a series of violations of Lebanese airspace by Israeli jets.

Israel has escalated its flights over Lebanon in recent weeks.

Israel Warplanes fly over Tyr, Drops Tens of Heat Balloons
Local Editor    19-Mar-2013

Two Israeli warplanes violated the Lebanese sovereignty Monday night, as they flew over Tyr city's coast and dropped tens of heat balloons in the area, Al-Manar correspondent in South Lebanon reported.

For its part, the National news agency said the enemy dropped over 30 heat balloons off Tyr coast between 8 and 10 pm on Monday, and flew on low altitude, breaking the sound barrier over the sea.

Israeli warplanes drop tens of heat balloons over Tyr, Lebanon

Crazy Angle of Syrian MiG Air Strike: Syrian films a Syrian regime MiG fighter dropping rockets and throwing off heat balloons

We have already seen above in the case of the Aleppo University explosions that MIGs now also come equipped with heat balloons.

A plane is most vulnerable to SAM attack when it has bottomed out and beginning to climb — which therefore is when it is most profitable to spew out its decoys.

An incongruity that is apparent in the image opposite, and even more so in the corresponding video, as well as in the case immediately below, is that although both are published with reference to "balloons" in their titles, the decoys released look more like flares.  Perhaps in the early days it really was "balloons" that were released, and the label persists to this day even though they have become more like flares.

My initial proposal of 26-Oct-1973 envisioned a large-volume decoy on the information that a SAM might be either heat-seeking or radar-guided or both, and therefore when radar-guided would be most attracted to a large and radar-reflecting decoy.  At the same time, it was anticipated that whatever decoy characteristics were preferred would be dictated by the characteristics of the SAMs that needed to be diverted.  If it is the case today that SAMs are mainly heat-seeking, perhaps because countermeasures against radar-guided SAMs are implemented by alternative means, let us say electronic ones, then today's needed decoys would be designed to generate heat without need of large volume, which would explain their looking more like flares than balloons.

Whatever the case, it seems to be a fair generalization that prior to the first mention of "heat balloons" in the Toronto Star as well as Globe and Mail reports of 20-Apr-1974 reproduced above, no warplanes anywhere, not in the Yom Kippur War and not in the more protracted Vietnamese War before it, were dropping anything in their wakes in response to, or in anticipation of, SAM attack, whereas today all warplanes are.

Assad Helo Drops Thermal Balloons: Assad is apparently trying to burn down the countryside in Syria.

No reason to restrict decoys to jet aircraft.  The short streak pointing downward toward 5 o'clock is the helicopter.

The title assigned to this video seems to suggest that the decoys are being mistaken for incendiary bombs.


SAF MiG Rains Phosphorus Bombs

This Syrian Air Force MIG twice deploys packets of four decoys.

As is suggested by the title published with this video, decoys may be commonly mistaken for incendiary bombs.  But if the brilliant objects shown being released were intended to start fires at ground level, it would be a waste of their fuel to ignite them at high altitudes.  And if this MIG had been responsible for the distant ground-explosion plume shown toward the end of the video, that explosion must have been made by a bomb dropped well before the plane's decoys were released.

The reader might wonder whether there is an answer to the question of how the idea of strewing decoys in a warplane's wake came to me.  The question does have an answer.  In the first place, I read an article in a popular magazine — I think it was Esquire, but I have been unable to track it down — on aerial dogfighting, from which I extracted the conclusion that whichever plane positioned itself behind its opponent won.  In the second place, "travelling behind" occupies a unique place in my consciousness, as I am acutely sensitive to exhaust fumes, and so when I drive I am constantly striving to escape being behind an exhaust-spewing vehicle, which is pretty much every vehicle — if I find myself in such a position I attempt to either fall back or pass.  When I drive, in other words, I view the rear position as disadvantageous and therefore strive to accomplish exactly the opposite of what a pilot in a dogfight tries to accomplish.  "Behind" to me signifies, to use an oater expression, eating the dust of whoever is in front.  Putting two and two together, I viewed the lagging, and therefore victorious, warplane as nevertheless occupying a vulnerable position, fated to crash into whatever the leading airplane chooses to leave in its wake.  If enabled to jettison the right sort of debris, it would be the lead plane that would win the dogfight.  A missile too tends to deliver its payload when it approaches from the rear.  In this frame of mind, the image of the targetted warplane jettisoning missile-damaging, or missile-incapacitating, or missile-attracting material is readily evoked.

It is inevitable that a weapons system will fall into both good hands and evil, will be directed towards just ends and unjust, and will be used sometimes responsibly and at other times recklessly.  The single conclusion relevant here is that a weapons system of proven worth can be invented by an observer lacking conventional credentials.

One Yom Kipppur moral, then, is that the multi-billion dollar war industries of the US and Israel had been unable to see a solution that seemed obvious to someone outside the industry, someone in fact who had never studied either engineering or weaponry.  Keeping this Yom Kippur moral in mind makes it possible to envision a happy ending to the contemporary — and historical — underperformance of the education sector.  That happy ending would be the realization that professional educators are so deeply entrenched in their traditional practices as to be blind to the simple and powerful innovations standing ready to catapult education from least to most productive of all sectors, and that the multi-billion dollar educational-testing industry is blind to solutions to its problems that seem obvious to outsiders.  Educational reform may be expected to follow the evolutionary path evident in the heat-balloons example — once highly-motivated reformers are located and engaged, a brief interval of infrastructure development will be followed by initial deployment, and a few years later everybody will be following suit, almost forgetting that there had existed a time when tools so indispensable lay unused.

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