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Preparations are done, we know how we want our chess pieces to move. We have looked at all the factors, taking everything into account and finally got a solid plan. Trouble is, we need to communicate all this to every single person taking part. Time for the briefing.
At the end of the briefing you want everybody to understand all relevant aspects of the overall mission without having bored anybody to death. Ideally you would be able to perfectly fly the mission without any communication at all, but that is of course an unrealistic expectation. What we are truly aiming for is, once it is time for take off, every pilot knowing how the package is going to function and what he has to contribute.
The intel you were provided to plan your mission with is the first thing available to anybody. It is beneficial to make it available to all participants as soon as you can. It is going to be a while, until you can share any additional information, therefore the unfiltered intel is the only resource anybody is going to have at this point. I can assure you, not everybody is going to read all of it, but it will certainly enhance the situational awareness of the majority of participants.
There are a bunch of ways you can present your briefing, from the dreaded power-point to no visual aid at all. Maybe you even feel inclined to do a whole video presenting your plan. The most efficient way I have found is to write everything into one PDF briefing document following a heavily abbreviated NATO order format , which we will get into later.
Having a PDF and sharing it in advance of the actual briefing does not only allow you to use it like a power-point, while you hold the actual briefing, but also enables everybody to have a look at it beforehand and therefore aid in understanding. Additionally it means that people who missed the proper briefing can still jump in, understand their role and play their part.
Preparing a kneeboard is something you are probably already familiar with when you are reading this. Each flight-lead prepares them for their flight. However, there are a few additional items often proving useful when flying as part of a package:
• Which call-sign corresponds to which tasking
• own position in the package
• mission specific codewords
• Altitude blocks
• Other flight frequencies
I do not include all of these items all the time and there might be other things you want to add.
Also always leave a blank space so people can put down some notes themselves. If an item is not applicable do not just leave a box on the kneeboard with N/A. Delete the line. It will make the whole page easier to read and creates even more space for notes.
Now we got everybody on a Teamspeak/Discord/Skype and you can hold your briefing. The briefing document and kneeboards have been sent to everybody ahead of time and they can look at them while you talk through it step by step. The extent of the briefing highly depends on your group and mission. For a casual flight you might want to stick to the basic “Situation, Mission and Execution”. Briefing more complex missions and packages I have found the following format to be a good compromise.
A quick overview over the key points, which were already provided in the Intel. Do not go into great detail, but try to describe the whole picture in as few words as possible without leaving out any key components.
Just one sentence, best read twice. “Destroy buildings at 55°12´N 023°28E” or “Gain air superiority in GG08”.
I like to make command intent a separate point to emphasize the importants of the mission as the single common goal. In command intent I specify what the focus of my execution is going to be. Are we going for speed and avoiding fights when possible or are we going to seek to bind the enemy in fights. This is also the part where you can elaborate on the mission. Do we need to take out a target no matter the losses or do we want to cause as much damage as possible with minimal casualties.
Now we go into detail of how the whole mission is supposed to unfold. Break it down into phases to make it easier to comprehend. Three is usually a good number, but sometimes you need to make it four or five.
Phase 1: Ingress
How do we proceed towards the hostile airspace?
Specify order of take-off, speed, altitude and formation. If refueling is necessary it is crucial you specify how AAR is going to be structured. Who is using which tanker in what order and regrouping in what position?
Make sure the aircraft with longer legs refuel first, since they are going to loose some of their fuel again while waiting for the others to AAR.
Easiest is setting up a common holding point where flights can proceed and hold. Just remember to assign different flights different altitude blocks and to tell the flight-leads to report once they are waiting and ready.
Phase 2: Push
Again specifying speed, altitude and formation are important.
You have the option of either nailing everybody down on ETA´s, for example “SWEEP at 0830, SEAD at 0832 and STRIKE at 0835”, or setting up a formation.
Flying formation as a package does require datalink capable aircraft since you will not necessarily operate in sight of one another.
You can then use the main Strike flight as the center of your formation and assign positions in reference to them. You could for example assign SWEEP to work from a position 20nm ahead of the strike. ESCORT to be stationed 5 to 10nm towards the biggest threat and the second STRIKE to follow close behind the first.
You can of course put the SEAD flight into a position like this as well, but the very dynamic nature of their tasking lends itself to giving their flight-lead more freedom in how he wants to position himself.
This structure is also only useful until you have to react to emerging threats, therefore you need to make clear how aggressive you want your different flights to act. If you have more than one flight engaging air targets, for example a SWEEP and an ESCORT flight, it makes sense to give one more freedom to pursue enemies in order to keep them at bay and one close by to keep threats away from the heart of the package.
Phase 3: Egress
This Phase should be initiated as quickly as possible once the mission has been achieved or has become impossible. No reason to maintain a vulnerable position if you don´t absolutely have to. During egress you should ideally position a flight with long range air to air weapons at the back of the package, so they can turn around and hold off any aggressors that might pursue you.
Establish a line within friendly airspace which crossing shall be reported back to you with the current fuel state so you can organize the transit back to base and possibly release flights early to join with a tanker.
Now it might be obvious that the package commander is in overall command, but DCS being a game and everybody always eager to go do their own thing it never hurts to remind everybody of the command structure that has been set up for this package and who the responsible flight-leads are.
GCI are also always a great help, but they often have a tendency to “own” the assets on their frequency. An inexperienced GCI might even try to reassign one of your flights to a close by tasking which he feels is more urgent.
To later keep control of your package you should therefore make sure all commits are done via yourself. GCI and flight-leads report bandits and if necessary threat assessments, but you need to clearly state in your briefing that only the package commander commits his flights against the threats. Only once this has happened do they leave their position in the package and maneuver relative to the threat.
A short list of Tankers, AWACS and air bases and all relevant frequencies. It is usually just a quick reference chapter in the briefing document, which I skip in the briefing itself apart from me reiterating that flight-leads always need to have one radio tuned to the package frequency.
Attach as many maps as you need to paint a complete picture. One overview showing all AWACS and AAR tracks, one overview with the complete route, one detailed route with push part of the route and terrain details, a few close ups of the target area with pictures attached, a map of the egress routes with relevant threats and so on and so on.
When planning your briefing allow for enough time for people to ask questions. Sometimes there will be no questions and sometimes you will be going over certain details for ten minutes. Just make sure you have enough time to eliminate all uncertainties.
Last, but not least address some questions to your flight-leads. Just some probing so you know everybody is on the same page and nobody is holding their map the wrong way around. If you have tricky parts in your plan focus on them. Otherwise some all time favorites are.
“Which frequency are you always monitoring?”
“Who is in front of you and who is behind you on the tanker?”
“If GCI assigns you a target what do you do?”
“What is your ETA for the target waypoint?”
“What is your relative position in the package?”
KISS … again and always
Unlike the wall of text I have created here, you should aim to keep your briefing as short and simple as possible without sacrificing detail. There is always room for improvement, but if you manage to get everything across within a 15 minute presentation, you can call it a job well done.
With the package briefing over, it is time for the flight-leads to take their flights aside and proceed with their respective briefings. They usually do not need as much time, but giving them the same amount regardless before mission start is good practice. That way players can maybe even sneak in a quick break and be fresh and ready for the final phase: The execution.