USACE Helps Israeli Air Force move to the Negev Desert
News Release No. 08120801. . . .25/9/2011
NEVATIM, Israel – Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion believed the future of this new Jewish State lay in its sparsely populated Negev Desert. Here Israel could sett le with minimal obstruction to the existingpopulation and establish plans to make the desert, in Ben-Gurion’s words,
Moving the military was also part of this settlement vision; and in 2002 the Israeli Air Force (IAF) published their strategy to transfer their “mother base,” collocated with the civilian airport near Tel Aviv, to Nevatim, a small
town in the Negev.
The move would ease pressure the on the civilian airport’s airspace and diminish the chance of mid-air accidents. It would also swap old buildings in a pricey neighborhood for new buildings in a low-cost area and provide hundreds of new jobs to those in a region best known for its high unemployment.
The move was termed one of the largest and most important military projects in the history of Israel. Not only would engineers place all new facilities where very little infrastructure previously existed, but many of these facilities would also be the biggest in the Middle East. Operational facilities had to support about 20,000 troops. The runway – at 2.5 miles, the longest in the Middle East – was to be the first in the country to support both fighter jets and transport aircraft . About 100 new buildings and 10 miles of new roads were planned.
“Every consultant the Air Force talked to was saying it’s an impossible mission,” said Ofer Davidi, Europe District’s project engineer managing the Corps’ support to the IAF’s move. “No one thought it could be done within the timeframe.”
All told, the move would cost more than $650 million – a significant share of Israel’s military budget – not including future plans to build nearby training bases, transportation systems, education facilities, housing, and a gas-powered electricity station to handle the new load.
But, on August 27, despite the pessimism, the IAF unveiled for the first time their new installation, simply called “Nevatim,” now the largest air base in Israel. It couldn’t have been built without the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Help in the form of U.S. engineers
Europe District’s first support to the IAF’s move started just after the 2002 announcement, when engineers at the Corps’ Europe District accepted a project to construct a new $15 million jet fuel system at Nevatim. Other projects quickly followed, including a fast-paced $18 million squadron
contract in late 2006 to design and construct four squadron operation complexes, two hardened alert barracks, a control tower, and a fire station by the time the base opened in August 2008.
“This was the biggest thing that I’ve done in my career as an engineer,” said Davidi, who estimated that the Corps supported about 20 percent of all new construction on base. “It was behind everything else that the Air Force is doing here in Israel. They called it the ‘mega project.’ ” Lawrence Ryan, resident engineer at the Israel Southern Resident Office, helped manage the construction of the squadron complex and said the desert’s vacant terrain made the
construction even more difficult.
“Our job was to construct the buildings,” said Ryan. “But before we could do that, the utilities, roads, communication systems, and fire protection systems had to be installed because there was really nothing there before. So there were
a lot of contractors working at once and it really had to be orchestrated well.” The most humbling aspect, said construction representative James Bramblett, was to see the projects bloom. “Here you had a whole landscape of hills and shrubs and desert,” said Bramblett. “Then slowly you start to notice roads, the
airfield, hangars, everything taking shape at once. It’s amazing to see a whole city basically come out of the ground. Really amazing.”
Corps projects still in the works for Nevatim include a $28 million hangar complex, a “municipality” building for the base’s headquarters operations, a museum and remembrance building called the Heritage building, a dining facility,
and a supply complex, including offices, warehouses, and an aerial delivery facility for what Davidi called “supplies
from the skies.”
Davidi said although these projects – expected to be turned over by summer 2009 – are the only ones left on the ledger, he anticipates the same consideration for future projects as he’s seen in the past from the IAF’s project management team – Col Zvi Twezer and May Dana Bazak.
“Quality is what’s important,” said Davidi. “That’s the most important thing for us and the customer. And that’s what will get us future contracts.”