"Designating and Naming Defense Military Aerospace Vehicles" (16 May 2014)

Stargazer2006

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Some members (me included) regularly discuss the fact that the designation system used by the U.S. armed forces seems to have become inaccurate, and that the people in charge do not have the faintest idea of what they're doing, nor do they know the history of official aircraft designation or understand the logic therein.

Well... here's a fairly recent official USAF document (issued by order of the Secretaries of the Air Force, Army and Navy) that seems to indicate quite the contrary.

Here is what we can read in the foreword (bullets and bold type mine) :

  • This Air Force publication implements DoD Directive 4120.15E, Designating and Naming Military Aerospace Vehicles.
  • It provides guidance and procedures for designating and naming defense military aerospace vehicles across the DoD.
  • This AFI defines the roles and responsibilities of required organizations, the processes for requesting new or retiring old designators and popular names, and the relationship between and military aerospace vehicle designators and names.
  • Additionally, descriptions of standardized Mission Design Series (MDS) designation symbols, military department contacts, and sample MDS and Popular Name request letters are provided.
  • This instruction applies to all military services and departments, including Reserve and National Guard components, which require official designators or names for defense aerospace vehicles.
  • This document has been substantially revised and must be completely reviewed.

There is a lot of interesting stuff in there, especially some notional (apparently fictitious) designations invented to show how the system works, such as XWC-130J or YQRQ-5F. Especially fascinating is the fact that there still is supposed to be an "X for Experimental" Status Prefix, although it is well known that no designation is known to have used the "X" for decades (last one I can think of right now is the XBQM-108A).
Other interesting and/or surprising elements are:
  • the "Z for Planning" Status Prefix, for "Aircraft in the planning or predevelopment stage." (it was previously known to apply to obsolete types)
  • the "M for Multi-Mission" Modified Mission Prefix, for "Aircraft modified to perform several different missions." (it was previously used for minesweeping and Marine types)
  • the impossibility to combine identical Modified Mission and Basic Mission (logical in itself) is true in all cases except for the letter "L" (now I'd love for someone to explain the likelihood of having a "Cold weather Laser" aircraft, but anyway...)
 

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Jos Heyman

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Wow, somebody up there in DoD has listened to us complaining. Thanks to Maj Gen Boera, who certified this. Hopefully from now on the way-out designations are a thing of the past and we go back to normality.
 

Andreas Parsch

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Err ... what's the news ::) ?

Document AFI 16-401 is just the latest iteration of a regulation which has existed for decades. In fact it's a direct descendant of the regulation which defined the joint aircraft designation system of 1962 (http://www.designation-systems.net/usmilav/original-docs/dod1962.pdf). While the 2014 edition has some interesting procedural updates compared to the previous one (2005, http://www.designation-systems.net/usmilav/afi16-401(i).pdf), there are effectively no changes to the designation system itself.

My article about the subject (http://www.designation-systems.net/usmilav/aircraft.html) may be some years old, but still gives a thorough overview of the designation system, including the time frames in which the various letters were valid. E.g. the "Z-for-Planning" status prefix has existed since 1962 ;) .

In theory, the procedures ensure that no "irregular" designations are assigned. However, in the end the approval or rejection of a designation request is the decision of a single office. If someone requests a "special" designation number for a high-profile program, let's say VH-92A when the regulation would mandate VH-73A, there are two basic options: Simply approving the request, which might nowdays take the time of a few mouse clicks in a database front end. Or starting to argue about the issue, possibly with someone with a higher military rank. I can somewhat understand everyone, who selects the first option ;) .

And BTW ...
Skyblazer said:
Especially fascinating is the fact that there still is supposed to be an "X for Experimental" Status Prefix, although it is well known that no designation is known to have used the "X" for decades (last one I can think of right now is the XBQM-108A).
X is indeed rarely used, but there a few quite recent allocations to experimantal UAVs. The last one I know of is XRQ-22A from August 2011.
 

Stargazer2006

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Andreas Parsch said:
Document AFI 16-401 is just the latest iteration of a regulation which has existed for decades. In fact it's a direct descendant of the regulation which defined the joint aircraft designation system of 1962 (http://www.designation-systems.net/usmilav/original-docs/dod1962.pdf).

Yes, and I don't think I ever said any different.

Andreas Parsch said:
My article about the subject (http://www.designation-systems.net/usmilav/aircraft.html) may be some years old, but still gives a thorough overview of the designation system, including the time frames in which the various letters were valid. E.g. the "Z-for-Planning" status prefix has existed since 1962 ;) .

I plead guilty for not visiting your site in a long while. Although I kind of know most of the system's specifics by heart, some points of details escaped me, and truly I had never really paid attention to the "Z-for planning" thing...

Andreas Parsch said:
X is indeed rarely used, but there a few quite recent allocations to experimantal UAVs. The last one I know of is XRQ-22A from August 2011.

Very true, thanks! As I said, I quoted the last one I seemed to recall, but indeed the XRQ-22A is a very recent example of the prefix actually being used.

Thanks again Andreas for all the wonderful work you've done in the past (and are still doing) and which will continue to serve as a reference to all of us for many years to come!
 

Andreas Parsch

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Skyblazer said:
Andreas Parsch said:
Document AFI 16-401 is just the latest iteration of a regulation which has existed for decades. In fact it's a direct descendant of the regulation which defined the joint aircraft designation system of 1962 (http://www.designation-systems.net/usmilav/original-docs/dod1962.pdf).

Yes, and I don't think I ever said any different.
Yes, sure. Sorry that I implied otherwise, this was not my intention. My reply was more like a general remark on the subject, actually triggered mainly by Jos' posting.
 

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