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
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