Attrition: Laser Vision Hits The Israeli Air Force


December 27,2008: Israel has graduated its first fighter pilot who had laser eye surgery (to eliminate the need for wearing glasses, which are prohibited for fighter pilots). Although this sort of surgery has been available for over a decade, air forces were reluctant to accept trainee pilots who once wore glasses, even if they had eliminated that need via the surgery. But three years ago, the U.S. Navy began accepting laser surgery pilot trainees. That worked, and Israel has followed suit.

Over the last four years, all of the American military services have been offering free laser eye surgery. This was considered a good investment, as troops who didn't have to wear glasses were much better off. Every soldier knows what a hassle eyeglasses can be in combat, because they get a taste of it in basic training. The running and jumping, the dust, explosions and general chaos often send eyeglasses flying, or leave them damaged. Moreover, combat soldiers are now more likely to use eyepiece sights (sniper scopes, night scopes, or the sight for the main gun on an M-1 tank), and these are easier to use without glasses. Each of the services set up its own clinics on many bases, and allowed troops elsewhere to get the procedure from civilian eye doctors. The procedure itself only takes about ten minutes, and activity must be restricted for 30 days after, so the eye can heal. The laser procedure has gone through several generations and is quite fast, effective and safe. The problem rate for the troops is practically zero.

 Laser eye surgery (often called "lasik") has also become a support item for combat pilots. The US Navy loses about eight pilots a year to failing eyesight. Laser eye surgery has proved capable of restoring that eyesight to standards required for carrier pilots. The procedure also expands the pool of potential pilots, as many promising prospects are turned away because their eyesight is not good enough. Many notable aces in the early years of air combat had eyesight problem that would have kept them out of flight school today. Modern warplanes are faster and less forgiving than in days past, so the near perfect eyesight has become a requirement.




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