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Need for Visual Aircraft Recognition

This chapter provides the causes for the decline in recognition skills in the past, the reasons for visual aircraft recognition today, and an overview of the potential threat. Aircraft are as much a part of the battlefield as tanks and artillery. These aircraft add a vertical dimension and their presence must be accepted and dealt with by every soldier in the field.

On today's battlefield, a soldier must recognize and identify both threat and friendly aircraft. Since there may be many of each type, aircraft recognition training is necessary for every soldier in the combat force.


Following World War II, the emphasis on visual aircraft recognition declined as a required skill for ground-based weapons crew members. Causes of the decline were —

The need for visual aircraft recognition skills has become more critical since —

The provision of large numbers of AD weapon systems to all divisional and some nondivisional ground combat forces generates additional emphasis on the need for visual aircraft recognition. Crew and team members of these weapon systems depend on visual recognition and identification of aircraft when making engagement decisions. The effectiveness of weapon systems in defeating the low-altitude air threat is directly affected by the skills of the crews and teams in recognition and identification of aircraft.

Air defense personnel follow rules of engagement (ROE). Under one ROE, the right of self-defense against air or ground attack is never denied in peace or war. Air defenders include hostile target criteria, IFF, sensors, and air defense warnings in making their engagement decisions. Additionally, weapon control statuses (WCSs) apply to air defense systems in particular, and may be a part of the supported ground force SOP as well.

WCS sets the degree of control over the firing of air defense weapon systems. During wartime, aircraft are fired on according to the WCS in effect.

The WCSs are —


The breakup of the former Soviet Union and restructuring into the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) does not diminish the fact that thousands of aircraft of many types that were manufactured by the former USSR are in the inventories of potential enemies of the United States and its allies. Additionally, the CIS will maintain standing military forces that include these aircraft.

Aircraft manufactured by friendly countries can also be a threat in some areas of operation. For example, the A-4 Skyhawk and Mirage F1 were in the hands of the Iraqi military during the Persian Gulf War. The current air threat makeup is of various types of aircraft with specific missions to perform. Specific threat information in your area of operation is included in your unit's operation order and tactical SOP.

The following is a brief overview of the threat:

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Updated: 27 January 2008
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