Left Hand, Meet Right Hand

Secrecy News links today to a newly-available U.S. military manual (PDF) on “visual aircraft identification”. Not terribly exciting, unless you’re an aviation buff, but it’s notable that the book – which contains little you couldn’t find on Wikipedia, or in a Janes’ publication, is “For Official Use Only”.

More interesting is that you have to wonder just how accurate and up-to-date the information it contains really is. Revised (presumably) in late 2005, and published in early 2006, the page on the MQ-1 “Predator” UAV lists the dimensions as a length of 26 feet, 6 inches, and a wingspan of 41 feet, 7 inches, and says “Armament – None.” Now compare the public factsheet published on the web by the Air Force. Length is pretty much identical at 27 feet, but the wingspan is given as 48.7 feet, and the page correctly notes that Predators can and do carry up to two “Hellfire” anti-tank missiles. It’s not like this is breaking news, either – Predators have been armed since at least 2001.

The point being, this restricted document, on at least one common, current, aerial vehicle very likely to be encountered by U.S. forces, is less accurate than public information available on the internet. “For Official Use Only”? “Distribution authorized to US Government agencies and their contractors only to protect technical or operational information for official government use“? (emphasis mine) Please. If they can’t get the details of one of their own systems correct, how much faith can you have that they got the details of anyone else’s systems right?

Edit: The entry on the B-52 “Stratofortress” is similarly inaccurate and outdated. The Field Manual states a length of 157 feet, 7 inches, a wingspan of 185 feet, a crew of six, and “Armaments – Bombs, ALCMs, SRAMs, cannon. The public factsheet lists the length as 159 feet, 4 inches, the wingspan as 185 feet, and the crew as five, correctly reflecting the fact that the tail turret has been removed from all operating B-52 airframes, and with it, the gunner (between 1991 and 1994). Incidentally, the SRAM was retired in 1993.

Yeah, yeah, nobody’s going to mistake a BUFF for anything other than a B-52. That’s not the point. The point is that this new publication, whose distribution is supposed to be restricted to “protect technical or operational information”, contains information on our own systems that’s more than a decade out-of-date. Confidence-inspiring, isn’t it?

(there’s more in this post.)

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', General, Security | on April 11th, 2007| 10 Comments »

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  1. On 4/11/2007 at 6:56 pm Left Hand, Meet Right Hand Said:

    [...] Left Hand, Meet Right Hand [...]

  2. On 4/12/2007 at 4:36 am Gopher Said:

    Lots of errors in here. AFAIK, USA is the only country to own A-10s, certainly not Chile or Vietnam. Cut and paste error, anyone?

    Also, the Tu-26 should in fact be the Tu-22-M2 (The M3 has raked back inlets, akin to that of the F-15). Oh, and I’m pretty sure the Eurofighter carries “missiles”. But hey, I’m being pedantic here. Many many more errors for the real nitpicker. Who can get them all?

    Interestingly, this document is created by (or under the command of) the US Army – I know that the army control air defence artillery, but surely it helps to talk to the people who pilot these things? Left hand meet right hand, but one wonders whether the left hand belongs to another body.

  3. On 4/12/2007 at 1:20 pm Nemo Said:

    Sure, asking the Air Force about things that fly might seem logical – and you would think our flyboys would have something of a vested interest in making sure their assets aren’t mis-identified. It’s not like it takes an intelligence analyst to spot that there are errors in this document, but I guess it’s like the old joke – “good enough for government work.”

    While FOUO isn’t technically a classification level, I agree with Steven Aftergood and FAS that there isn’t anything sensitive in the manual, despite all it’s dire warnings. Almost makes you wonder if it received distribution restrictions to try and conceal that it contains extremely outdated information and was seemingly never fact-checked. Wouldn’t be the first time the government tried to restrict access to something embarassing…

  4. On 4/13/2007 at 2:23 pm popatnic Said:

    While the aircraft data may be inaccurate, the method of scanning the sky will prove very useful in training new bird watchers who often experience the same “loss of perspective” an aircraft observer might.

  5. On 4/13/2007 at 2:36 pm Nemo Said:

    True… and the section on how to focus binoculars will probably come in useful, at least for a few; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pair that came with instructions. Then again, I’ve never personally even handled a pair of binoculars with built-in polarizers, though I use them on cameras often.

    Still, since it looks like this manual gets prepared and revised in a virtual vacuum with no input from other branches of the armed forces, I have to wonder what the recommended methods of scanning the skies for aircraft used by the USN, USMC, and USAF are… and whether they work better than “the Army way”. :)

  6. On 4/13/2007 at 7:54 pm Andy Said:

    There are several variants of the MQ-1 predator. Later variants have a larger wing, which explains the discrepancy. Some of the other errors are pretty bad though.

  7. On 4/16/2007 at 9:52 am S.G. Spires Said:

    This document is so riddled with errors. One has to think it has just been cut and pasted and cut and pasted and cut and pasted for the past 15 years or so without much thought to an update. If it is an in-house Army product then somebody should be disciplined for it. If it is contract writer, then the contract should be cancelled. This thing is a diservice. I wonder how much it cost to produce?

  8. On 4/16/2007 at 1:14 pm Nemo Said:

    In a just world, there would be an investigation, and perhaps hearings, and some – what’s that word I’m thinking of, the one you never hear much anymore? Oh, right – accountability. Alas, this is not a just world…

    If some outside service did produce this manual, I think the taxpayers deserve their money back. Heck, too many tax dollars were spent on this thing, regardless of how little it might have cost.

  9. On 10/15/2007 at 3:04 pm John Said:

    Thanks for the warm comments on FM 3-01.80. I have been given the task of updating this FM. I will be adding and deleting many aircraft along with a line by line review. Some of the comments that have been posted are valid some are not. This FM is used to teach soldiers how to identify aircraft, if you have ever tried to do this while an aircraft is in flight it is very hard and I am not talking about doing this in your driveway but under any and all conditions using binoculars or your naked eye possibly for hours while remaining unseen by any aircraft. Aircraft are constantly being modified in some way take the B52 it has gone over so many major upgrades and likely to get many more. Theses changes take time to get into print, I will get this FM straight ASAP and have many changes already, so if any of you Wingnuts out there see anything you have issue with I will research your issue and get it fixed. My email is John.Faber@us.army.Mil Please put VACR as the subject or my email service will send your comment into the trash. Rest assured there is no one that wants this FM to be accurate more then me. I look the soldiers that use this FM in the eye every day they demand and deserve to have the most accurate information possible and that is what they will have.
    Thanks for your help. John

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