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Military Flight Comms
by Rob "the Stick" Brady

So, you've got a bandit on your nine oclock and two more coming in at high noon. Your wingman has just broken left to deal with the nine o'clock threat, when suddenly out of seemingly nowhere someone is locking you up from seven oclock high. This is NOT good. But aside from the immediate tactical decision, what do you SAY to your wingie?

If you responded, "Viper Two, Viper One disengaging bandits at twelve, new threat at high seven" you might not have the right tactical decision but at least your wing knows what you are up to. Depending on the distance and nature of the nine oclock threat, you might have given this command:

"Viper Two, disengage and break left, engage new threat on my high seven."

Whatever you decide, the key is in communicating in an understandable, brief, and predictable fashion. And this is where the Multi-Command Manual of the US Air Force comes in.

The whatzit? The Multi-Command Manual. Tactical Communication is carefully controlled in military encounters, and if you ever have the opportunity to get into a sim that allows simultaneous voice transmission while connected, which is the trend btw (witness the testing of the Warbirds beta, and the coming Tactical Aero Squadron), you are gonna need to do some learning.

A typical set of mission objectives would be:

  • Detect, Sort, Target all factor groups
  • Engage/ Kill on our terms
  • Comms in accordance with 3-1

After some years flying sims the first two aren't much of a problem anymore. Sure, I still get killed on occasion, but the avionics and tactical issues are becoming routine. Comms, on the other hand, are not so routine and I'm dreading getting sorted out on this as I make the switch to online real human coop play.

Comms is no issue on ingress, generally, but once the tactical situation heats up, look out! Everyone is talking at the same time, and unless you know WHO is talking to WHOM and which action is desired when, its a problem! The problem is handled by the use of 3-1 communication.

The basic format is Call Sign, Directive, Descriptive. In other words, you will tell WHO YOU ARE TALKING TO, WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO DO, then follow up with WHY YOU WANT THEM TO DO THAT.

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There are two types of radio transmissions: directive and informative. Most comms in an air-to-air engagement are of the latter variety, where we discuss what is going on in the environment around us. But when the flight is threatened the important traffic is directive. HUNTER TWO, BREAK RIGHT! BANDIT HIGH FIVE! This is the classic 3-1. Who Makes the Call?

Usually directive calls (excepting break calls) are made by element leaders in a four ship formation, and almost always by the flight lead. When a wingman is given a lead to engage a bandit, the leader still has the power to call him off. This disipline is the most important factor in effective deployment.

For example, suppose HUNTER flight hs engaged a bandit. The leader, HUNTER ONE, is chasing the bandit in a left turn when he finds his wing, HUNTER TWO, pursuing the same bandit. HUNTER ONE wants TWO out of the way so he can take a shot and he calls: HUNTER TWO, COME OFF RIGHT, HUNTER ONE ENGAGED HIGH RIGHT SEVEN. HUNTER TWO would understand that HUNTER ONE is at his seven o'clock position and needs him out of the way to the right.

HUNTER LEAD would then move in to the informative area of flight comms. As soon as the break call is made, HUNTER TWO must ensure that HUNTER ONE is properly defending himself and add any needed information as necessary: HUNTER LEAD, CONTINUE HARD RIGHT, BANDIT YOUR DEEP SIX, STUCK IN LAG. HUTNER LEAD needs to know this so he can gain a tally and properly defend himself. HUNTER TWO would continue to make these calls until HUNTER LEAD has the tally or until the bandit is ablaze from HUNTER TWOs weapons.

More examples of informative calls:

  • to which VIPER ONE might respond: VIPER TWO, PRESS, VIPER ONE OFF RIGHT

Informative calls are always as brief as possible so that other calls are not stepped on, such as AWACs warnings of a dangerous and changing tactical situation. Moreover, when radio calls are made in the heat of battle it is not always possible to recognize a muffled and strained voice, so the callsign becomes VERY important. Using a callsign also allows other fighters in the area to either "tune out" or "tune in" calls that are unimportant or critical. When there are eight flights in the air on the same frequency it becomes essential.

So where in simdom are we with all this? Well, when FN2 breaks onto the scene this kind of communication protocol is going to become relevant, as it will with the coming WWII online sims. As for the AI wingmen, no one has done a really good job of this to date, although F3 came close. Look for great improvements in imF22, TFX3 and Falcon 4.0. Voice overlap in critical moments really adds to the tension and realism.

Janes 688I, while not a flight sim, is a case in point. When things heat up in the beta and the OOD issues a few orders close together, and ANOTHER target or torpedo is detected in the water, it seems EVERYONE wants your attention at once! This is the way it is in reality, and it really does raise the adrenaline factor. This is gonna be a banner year for sims, so get the drill and hang on!

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Last Updated August 30th, 1997

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