Rehearsing The Unexpected, Survive And Win

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Pablo Edronkin

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Having a hidden ace regarding combat techniques and changing suddenly our behaviour and the expectations of our adversaries is the key for survival and victory.

A competent combatant will study his adversary, he will learn how the adversary thinks, what kind of limitations he has - be them technological, cultural, political, and so on - and will attempt to establish certain patterns of previsibility in order to judge the actions of the enemy and to find opportunities to exploit. That is what both U.S. and North Vietnamese pilots did during the war in southeast Asia, a few decades ago. U.S. pilots learned about the fairly obvious technological and training limitations of the North Vietnamese and their airspace defensive systems, and the North Vietnamese studied deeply the way in which their enemies thought and how that limited their own attack capabilities.

The North Vietnamese had a few modern and very capable systems like the Mig-21 interceptor, but for the most part they used still capable but rather obsolete Mig-17 and Mig-19 combat aircraft that had only cannons instead of air-to-air missiles and other sophisticated weaponry. North Vietnamese pilots, for the most part, were trained to fight in levels, that is, not while climbing or diving. Thus, U.S. pilots knew that if they could break North Vietnamese formations or take them to vertical dogfights, they would enjoy an additional advantage.

However, the North Vietnamese knew that being their own aircraft lighter and smaller than what their opponents had, they could survive if they could close in for combat; the shorter the distance, the better because not only they could point and fire their cannons, but for two more reasons: first, aircraft like the F-4 Phantom had only missiles and no cannons, so by closing distances they could not shot the missiles because there would be no chance for its fuses to arm them after firing. Then, if a Phantom shot all its missiles, it would become a sitting - or flying - duck. Additionally, U.S. warplanes, being heavier and bulkier had more difficulties fighting at close ranges because they were not as aerobatic as the Russian models.

Those who learned these lessons managed to survive, but both in the case of the North Vietnamese and the U.S. pilots, those who in addition to this learned how to change their behaviour unexpectedly, managed to get more victories in air to air combat. Taking a hidden ace and putting it into the game is, however, not easy: If you don't do it properly it could backfire. So fighters should also learn how to turn any situation and introduce such new factors in ways in which they will not become - even for a fraction of a second - into yet more liabilities, for they could certainly be exploited by the enemy.

Learning how to think like the opponent is learning how to survive, and understand how not to think like the adversary is conductive to victory.

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