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A US Army manual updated this month stresses that soldiers should not solely rely on technology when detecting enemy aircraft. Soldiers, the Army said, must possess a skill the manual calls “Visual Aircraft Recognition” (VACR). That’s military-speak for being able to determine the type of aircraft one might encounter—all in an effort to distinguish between friend and foe “to decrease any chance of fratricide.”
“VACR is a highly perishable skill and must be trained on and evaluated regularly in conjunction with table training. While it is the Soldier on the ground, weapon system in hand that is executing VACR, leaders at all levels must be proficient at this skill,” according to the manual, (PDF) Visual Aircraft Recognition.
The 200-page manual—eye candy to military aircraft buffs because of its hundreds of grainy pictures of aircraft—also includes rudimentary graphics and tips on how to detect aircraft with one’s eyesight. The battlefield is becoming more and more “automated,” the manual notes. But too much is at stake for soldiers to solely rely on technology. They must be capable of identifying aircraft “without the use of automation.”
Soldiers must be knowledgeable in the identification of all types of aerial platforms ranging from fixed, tilt, and rotary wing aircraft and unmanned aircraft, in order to protect friendly forces and to prevent fratricide. There have been many arguments through the years that the military does not need VACR, because of the advancement of technology that identifies friendly or enemy aerial platforms. VACR is a basic skill that every Soldier should know. Soldiers cannot blindly depend on automation to do their jobs for them. VACR give Soldiers the necessary skills to perform at the highest level in defending friendly forces from enemy aerial attack.
The manual instructs soldiers that certain aircraft are more likely to be seen in certain “theater of operations” and that “formerly friendly types of aircraft are gradually finding themselves in the hands of non-friendly forces and nations.” The training manual noted that the A-4 Skyhawk and Mirage F1 platforms “were in the hands of the Iraqi military during the Persian Gulf War.” The manual doesn’t expressly say which aircraft is friendly, but it notes the country of origin for each craft.
20 degrees above the horizon
The military says that the optimal vantage point to search for aircraft is 20 degrees above the “apparent horizon.” The Army instructs that soldiers can position themselves in a manner that will provide them that vantage point.
A soldier, the military said, should extend “one hand straight in front of him with his fingers fully spread. With his thumb in the air and his little finger pointed at the ground and touching the apparent horizon, the thumb tip will be about 20 degrees above the horizon.”
Some tips on how to detect aircraft include squinting the eyes. “Squinting changes the eyes’ focal length and will aid in bringing distant aircraft into focus,” the Army said.
The Army also cautions soldiers not to stare into the sun and recommends “extending the arm” to block the glare. “Looking into the sun without shielding the eyes may damage them, and even a temporary blinding effect may cause the observer to miss aircraft.” Another piece of advice is to keep eyes on aircraft that are discovered.
“Looking away may make it necessary to search for the aircraft again,” the manual says. “If it is necessary to look away, the observer should try to remember exactly where the aircraft was and its heading direction from a specific point such as a terrain feature.”
Soldiers are also cautioned that “atmospheric conditions” like haze, smoke, fog, and clouds “can make it challenging to see distant objects such as aircraft.”
Drones of war, in pictures
The military also instructs on how to employ binoculars and says they “are most effective when used correctly.”
“Keep the eyes on the detected aircraft and carefully raise the binoculars to the eyes to acquire the aircraft. Sudden or jerky movements may cause the observer to lose sight of the aircraft,” the training manual says.
The manual has several graphics on identifying types of wing, fuselage, engine, canopy, and tail fin and flats. Here are some graphics illustrating this:
There’s plenty more pictures in the manual, including dozens of rotary wing aircraft of war.
Listing image by US Army