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Chapter 3

Aerial Search

This chapter describes search techniques and systematic methods of search that an observer will use when searching the skies to detect aircraft. An air attack will be sudden and swift. Air guards must learn the techniques of search and how to quickly recognize aircraft performing hostile acts. The use of optical devices such as binoculars and the sighting systems of the M1 and M2 family of vehicles will greatly enhance the air guard's ability to detect and observe enemy aircraft. Air guards can then give the air attack warning immediately to allow maximum reaction time or seek cover and concealment and to prepare their weapons for firing.



3-1. Assign air guards to be on the lookout at all times for enemy threats. A map reconnaissance of each unit's AO will help locate likely areas from which air targets can attack. Air guards should watch for air threats attempting to take advantage of masking terrain like woodlines, ridgelines, and significant folds in the terrain out to about 5,000 meters. Local OP personnel should incorporate air guard responsibilities into their duties. If an OP does not have a good view of the airspace in his area, position a special sentry to search that sector. Establish a systematic procedure for searching all sectors. Air guards should be rotated frequently, because searching for long periods of time dulls the ability to spot air platforms.



3-2. In a convoy, every vehicle should have at least one individual assigned as an air guard. Anyone on the vehicle other than the driver may perform this duty. Check the map and mark narrow valleys or other terrain features that may force a unit to bunch together. Then, assign specific search sectors to each air guard keeping those trouble spots in mind. Ensure an air guard watches the rear of the convoy to prevent a surprise attack from this blind side. If the road march lasts more than an hour, have the troops take turns being air guards so that they remain alert.



3-3. When searching, especially above the horizon, the eyes will tend to relax and distant objects may become blurred. Focusing the eyes frequently on a distant object such as a terrain feature can prevent blurring. Squinting of the eyes will aid in focusing at long ranges. Squinting changes the eyes' focal length and aids in bringing distant targets into focus. Soldiers should keep their eyes on an air target that they have detected. If they look away, they may lose the target and have to look for it again. If they must look away, they should try to remember exactly where the air target was and its heading from a specific point such as a terrain feature. Define the search sector size horizontally and vertically, and establish the upper and lower limits of search.



3-4. The size of a search sector directly affects air platform detection. Air platforms can be detected easier if the search sector is narrow. If assigned a search sector size of 360 degrees, the chances of detecting air platforms are greatly reduced. When supported by an alert warning system, then a fairly large sector of about 90 degrees can be observed. After receiving a warning, narrow the search sector to about 30 degrees and center the search on the air platform's approach azimuth (Figure 3-1).

Figure 3-1. Sector Surveillance.



3-5. Vertical search limits are helpful in detecting air platforms. When searching the sky for targets, searching too near the horizon will miss higher flying air platforms, while searching too high above the horizon will miss those flying lower. Establish the search area 20 degrees above and 20 degrees below the horizon. This will ensure that targets are detected within the search parameters. To estimate 20 degrees, extend one hand straight in front of the face with fingers fully spread. Point the little finger at the ground and the thumb in the air. With the little finger touching the apparent horizon, the thumb will be at about 20 degrees. The tip of the thumb is the upper search limit (Figure 3-2).

Figure 3-2. One Method of Estimating 20 Degrees.


3-6. There are two systematic methods of search to look for air platforms in any type of terrain. Horizontal and vertical searching are described below.


3-7. Search the horizon by moving the eyes in short movements across the sky, working up and across. Continue the searching and search pattern below the horizon to detect air platforms contour flying (Figure 3-3).

Figure 3-3. Horizontal Searching.


3-8. Search the sky using the horizon as a starting point and prominent terrain features as reference points. Move the eyes in short movements up the sky, then back down, continuing the movement across the terrain. Search in the same pattern below the horizon to detect air platforms contour flying (Figure 3-4).

Figure 3-4. Vertical Searching.


3-9. With experience, soldiers who possess above average vision may use nonsystematic methods of search. From the following, select one that works best:

  • Combination of the two systematic methods.
  • Search of the horizon in the shape of an oval to 20 degrees above the horizon.
  • General or random search of the horizon.

3-10. Air guards should look for sun reflections from canopies or cockpit windows, blade flash from rotating propeller blades, smoke trails and dust, and excessive movement of treetops and bushes in a particular area. They should listen for noise from propeller blades or aircraft engines. It is likely that these indications will be detectable before the aircraft is plainly visible. The sooner the aircraft is detected, the more time the unit will have to react to an air threat warning.


3-11. All soldiers must be able to visually recognize which aerial platforms are friendly and which are hostile. Depending on where in the world US forces are committed, soldiers may see many different types of friendly and hostile aerial platforms. Regional powers that the US may one day be at war against, or allied with, obtain their air assets from many sources. US forces may encounter air assets originally designed and built in Germany, Britain, Italy, France, or other countries fighting with us or against us. We may even encounter aerial platforms originally built in the US being used and Soviet-built aircraft as allies. Therefore, it is imperative that commanders train their troops in recognizing different types of aerial platforms. If the aerial platform is not positively recognized as hostile, it should be engaged only in self-defense. Soldiers should consult FM 44-80, GTA 44-2-17/18/19 (reference cards), and ACCP Subcourse IS 4400 for this purpose.


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