Secrecy News

Visual Aircraft Recognition Revisited

When Secrecy News gained unauthorized access to a restricted U.S. Army manual on visual identification of U.S. and foreign aircraft, we supposed that it was just one more case of unnecessary and inappropriate secrecy.

But it turns out to be something worse than that, since the document (pdf) contains a surprising number of technical errors.

The dimensions given in the Army manual for the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle are wrong, the Entropic Memes blog astutely noted. And the entry for the B-52, among others, is likewise incorrect.

“Please,” Entropic Memes exclaimed. “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?”

In this case, the secrecy of the Army manual was not just an arbitrary barrier to public access. It also “protected” numerous errors that may make the document worse than useless.

Conversely, exposing the document to public scrutiny may now make it possible to correct its errors so as to fulfill its intended purpose.

Since it was posted on the Federation of American Scientists website 48 hours ago, the Visual Aircraft Recognition manual has been downloaded over seventy thousand times, an exceptionally high rate of access.

Update: “This is not a subject I’ve so far spent a lot of time on, but the entry for every aircraft I’ve looked up in the manual thus far contains errors,” adds Entropic Memes in a new post.

5 thoughts on “Visual Aircraft Recognition Revisited

  1. The incorrect info in Visual Aircraft Recognition, concerning
    Finland as an user country:

    That Finland was a F-35 JSF (future) user – INCORRECT

    That Finland was still using Saab Draken and Mig-21, INCORRECT – both were
    replaced in mid-nineties by F/A-18s

    That Finland IS NOT a Mi-8 “Hip” user country, It IS

    That Finland IS NOT a (Super)Puma user country, IT IS

    That Finland IS NOT a MD-500 Defender user Country, IT IS

    That Finland IS NOT a Jet Ranger (OH-58) user IT IS

  2. The first entry of this manual has the A-10 being used by Vietnam and a host of other nations. The picture page just after the A-10 specifications indicates that only the U.S.A. used the A-10. I seem to remember talk of a deal with a few Central American nations that a “gunless” A-10 would be sold to them in the mid 1990s. However, I don’t remember anything about the People’s Republic of Vietnam being sold A-10s.

  3. Just a cursory glance at this document shows how many errors it contains. The U.S. Air Force DID NOT purchase 563 F-117 stealth attack bombers. At the most it was about 60. Either that, or the USAF is hiding about 10 F-117 wings somewhere. This document seems like something generated for disinformation or else the people who drafted it were ignorant.

  4. I found this a very interesting publication. Apart from the fact that there are many mistakes in this manual, like the countries that are using certain aircraft for instance. From a recognition point of view it is not that important. My general comment is that the 3 view drawings are of a very poor quality: in some cases I had to go the the pictures to recognize the aircraft on the drawings. In two cases (and I only had a brief look at the manual) the wrong drawings have been used:

    The Mirage 2000 shows the drawing of the Mirage III/5, and

    the Super Frelon shows the drawing of the Sikorsky Sea King (the previous entry).

  5. 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 is likely to get many more. These 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 [email protected]. 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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