Some time ago, I discussed – and poked holes in – the Army’s field manual on “visual aircraft identification”. While the doctrinal portion of the manual is sound, the reference portion leaves… a lot to be desired. Thankfully, a new revision is in the works, which should rectify the shortcomings of the current edition.
In a related vein, I was recently given a training document from the Air Force on “visual identification”, which, while it doesn’t include the reference material the Army manual does, covers a lot more than just planes – though it covers those, too, and with the same WEFT method the Army uses, but in greater detail.
In addition to airplanes and helicopters (using REFT), it covers ships:
Yep, that’s a ship, alright (unless you’re trying to annoy the Navy, in which case it’s a “boat”); the appropriate acronym for identification, by the way, is MASH.
It also covers tanks, self-propelled artillery, anti-aircraft defenses (hint: if it’s firing or shooting at you as you fly by, it might be an anti-aircraft system), and other “ground systems”, most of whose identification doesn’t get a snazzy acronym, alas.
An interesting, visual-identification-related anecdote from the cold war: during the Cuban Missile Crisis, American reconnaissance crews and imagery analysts had a virtually sure-fire way of identifying which anti-aircraft batteries on the island were Cuban-crewed, and which were manned by Soviets. Quite simply, if there was an impromptu baseball field nearby, it was Cuban; if there was a jury-rigged soccer pitch nearby, it was Russian…
The 35-page, 913KB document (PDF!) from the Air Force can be downloaded right here. Enjoy.