by Hammer

Situation Awareness (SA) is the art of knowing what is going on around you. It refers to knowing where the fights are, which bases are damaged, what planes are around you, where friendly and enemy counters are and, more importantly, what all of these things mean to your flight and fight. In the arena, an average pilot with good SA will land more kills than a good pilot with average SA.

There are lots of ways to think of SA. In this discussion, I will break it into 3 areas: Arena SA, Area SA, and Immediate SA. Arena SA is an estimate of the general situation in the entire arena before you fly and everything beyond Area SA during flight. Area SA covers the sectors surrounding the sector you are flying in. Immediate SA covers the sector you are in and any planes that you have on radar or that you can see. You must constantly track all three levels of SA in order to be successful. The farther away from your location you can maintain your SA, the better off you will be.

Arena SA

The main focus of Arena SA before you take off is to decide where to go looking for a fight and where to take off. The process of developing your Arena SA begins as soon as you enter an arena. Click "Roster" on your clipboard menu and see how many people are flying for each country. Sort your roster by country, rank, and squad to see who is up, which squads might be running operations for which country, etc. Do this by clicking on the appropriate heading in the roster itself. While the information available on the roster may mean nothing to you the first few times you enter the arena, you will soon learn to associate various players, both friend and foe, with various flight characteristics, tactics, planes flown, skill, and sometimes even where they fly. For example, some players seem to "specialize" in bombing undefended bases. Others like to fly at high-alt in boom and zoom (BnZ) planes. Still others can usually be found low looking for a furball. As you learn the people in the arena, this will become valuable information. Additionally, the roster can give you an idea of the overall odds in the arena.

Your next step is to bring up the map and take a look what is going on in the arena. For information on how to read the map, see Understanding The Map and Radar. Look to see where both enemy and friendly counters are. Look to see if the other two countries are fighting (concentrations of counters on their border) or if both are focusing on your country. Are there any lone enemy counters over one of your bases away from the other fights? Are there counters behind the forward enemy bases? Combinations of these indicators can tell you many different things.

Map Radar>

Take a look at the image above. This snapshot of the arena shows many different situations. I will discuss some of them, how I interpret it, and why.

In this example, you are a rook. In an overall assessment of the arena, it looks like the Bishops and Knights are expending more energy on each other than they are on the rooks. Why do I say this? Because there are an awful lot of red bars nowhere near the green ones. Let's look at some specific sectors to see what I mean.

If you look in sector 12,9 (Knight airfield A26), you see a solid red bar. This is probably a large fight of Bishops and Knights. Why? Because A26, owned by the Knights, is surrounded by Bishops' airfields. Whether it was just captured by the Knights or has been a stubborn hold out against a Bishop offensive that captured other bases, it is an outpost the Bishops must get rid of. Here is where knowing the odds in the arena, based on numbers you can get from you roster, would help you estimate if the Knights are pushing on the Bishops or vice versa.

I would also say the counters in sector 12,10 (Bishop airfield A45) are also a mixed fight involving the Knights and Bishops. In this case, besides the fact that A45 is surrounded on 3 sides by Knights' airfields, I can also see that all the Rooks out of A44 (sector 11,10) are heading south, not east. This would tend to indicate the Rooks flying in that area do not consider the bogies at A45 as threats to A44.

Let's change our focus to sector 9,10 (Rook airfield A5). Here we see a steady stream of red dots between A5 and A4, owned by the Bishops. Also note that, while there is a large green bar in sector 9,10, there are only a couple of friendly dots visible. Because you can see the enemy dots, you know the local radar is working, so the conclusion is you don't want to be taking off at A5! Most of the friendlies in the sector (indicated by the green bar) are clustered around the base, probably at low level, and will be as much a victim of the higher enemy as you will if you take off there.

What else can you glean from looking at this particular sector? Well, A4 is a bit more than a sector-side away from A5. Since a sector side is 25 miles long, we can see it is just a little over 25 miles miles between A5 and A4. By selecting "Alts" on the clipboard, we can see that A5's altitude is 0k while A4's is 4k. That means the Bishops taking off at A4 start out 4k higher than the Rooks taking off at A5. Since the dar indicates the Bishops are flying over A5, you can figure they are grabbing all the way. How high might they be? Some simple math can give you an idea.

The fighters in Aces High climb at a speed on average of around 160 - 170mph. At 170mph, it will take approximately 9 minutes to go 25 miles. The most common fighters climb at rates of between 2.5 and 3.5 thousand feet per minute. Considering the Bishops are already taking off from a base at 4k already, you could see fighters well above 20k when they get over A5. This is fairly simple calculations, and doesn't account for indicated vs true airspeed or the fact that climb rates tend to decrease as you get higher. The good news, though, is that both of these factors will make the altitude the enemy arrives at lower than your estimation so, if you are prepared for the worst, you will be pleasantly surprised.

The above is a somewhat lengthy discussion of some of the areas currently on the map. My own estimate of the situation is:

  • Knights and Bishops are fighting pretty hard along their border. There are at least 4 engagement areas that I can see on the map (A45, A26, A31/A32, and P39).
  • There is a large Bishop raid coming from A4 about to overwhelm flight operations at A5 and there will be nothing I can do about it.
  • Rooks are heading south from A44 for an attack on A25. Depending on damage already done to A25, there may or may not be enough for a capture. The fact that there are no red dots visible at A25 or A45 indicate that the local radar at A44 is damaged.
  • The two red dots over A2 are probably high bombers in support of the attack at A5. They could also be fighter-bombers hitting the fuel to reduce the endurance of potential relief planes.
  • The red dot north of A5 could also be a high bomber going to hit A6, or a fighter out to intercept any help that comes from A6.
  • Rooks are attempting to attack A48, but don't have enough forces in the area.
  • Knights are counter-attacking the rooks at A43 and lots of rooks just upped or are grabbing over the base in order to defend it.

Once you have gotten an idea of what is going on in the arena, it is time to decide where you are going to take off and look for a fight. This depends on how you like to fly, what you like to fly, and what kind of odds you think are acceptable. I like to fly fighters and I prefer somewhat fair fights. I don't mind the enemy having an altitude advantage unless there are a lot of them and only a few of us. Unless there was damage to one of my preferred fields which would cause me to up somewhere else ( such as no/low fuel), my choices for takeoff (in order) would be:

  • A43 towards A52. The rooks already up will have drug many of the attacking Knights down to a reasonable altitude before I get there. If you want more altitude (and if you are a new player, you probably do), then use A1 instead.
  • A44 towards A45 with bombs and rockets. If help is needed capturing the base, you have the weapons. If the Knights put up a good defense, you can dump the ordnance and fight as a pure fighter.
  • A2 or A6 towards A5. If you are new, you don't want to go rushing into the horde at A5 by yourself but, if lots of Rooks are rallying in defense of A5, you can certainly join them.
  • C18 (aircraft carrier) to A48. Looks like even numbers, but the capture is not going to happen and it would be wasted effort as far as any contribution to Rook-land goes.

Below are a few other situations and possible interpretations. Keep in mind that at this point, they are estimates based only on the location of counters in the arena:

Situation 1: Close to Even # of Counters in Friendly Base Sector.
Interpretation: There is probably a low fight going on somewhere near your base. Why? Because people tend to up as soon as possible to get into a fight. Any new enemy coming into the fight will have an altitude advantage because they are climbing from their closest base. They are probably not coming at their maximum climb, though, because they want to get to the fight quickly, too. It is not unlikely that there is an enemy bomber heading for your base (or a friendly bomber heading for the enemy base) because bomber jocks seem to abhor a good fighter battle. If the friendly buff disables the enemy base, you will get a temporary break but the enemy will probably just up at a next closest base and continue the fight with more altitude.

Situation 2: Close to Even # of Counters in Enemy Base Sector.
Interpretation: Here, your side has the enemy pushed back to their own base. It is now even more likely that a bomber is trying to sneak to your base because one of those enemy you killed while pushing them back to their base got pissed off and decided to show you who's boss! This often manifests itself as a buff upping somewhere and coming in Nap of the Earth (NOE) to hit your fighter hangers but they may also up in the rear and climb to extreme altitudes to pork your base. Also be aware that, when you or someone else shoots down an enemy, they can re-up and enter the battle right away. This often makes it tough to get away from battles near an enemy base. Counters in surrounding sectors are probably fighters coming to the low fight with some altitude.

Situation 3: Lots of Enemy, Few Friendly in Friendly Base Sector - Base Damaged or Not.
Interpretation: The bad guys have your base capped or are about to have it capped. The enemy buffs are probably on the way if not already here. It will probably take a group effort to save the base. Sometimes you will find all of the bogies low over your base and sometimes not. It's usually worth a look, but one high enemy usually means more high enemy.

Situation 4: Lots of Enemy, Few Friendly in Enemy Base Sector.
Interpretation: This could be the tail end of the fight described in situation 2 or there could be some friendly bombers hitting the enemy base. Either way, figure it as a fight which you probably can't influence. If you want to take a look at it, you can up at the closest friendly base and grab towards the enemy base. If the friendlies there survive, they will probably be dragging some enemy towards you and you can clear their 6. If they don't survive, then the enemy is probably grabbing towards you. You can go take a look and see if you have a significant alt advantage to harass them with, but be prepared to high-tail it back to your own base and (hopefully) some friendlies.

Situation 5: One Enemy, No Friendlies in Friendly or Nearby Enemy Base Sector.
Interpretation: Chances are high that there is a buff coming in trying a milk-run. On the other hand, it could be a fighter. Unless it is a fighter right at the base (find out by jumping out onto the runway!) it is probably worth upping. Yes, the enemy may have the alt-advantage. Choose a plane that you can defeat a higher bogie in and go meet them!

Situation 6: Lots of Enemy Counters Over Enemy Base Near Border of All Three Countries.
Interpretation: This could be a raid of your nearest base or a fight between the other two countries that you can take advantage of. If the other two sides are fighting over a base, you can usually count on finding enemy at all altitudes.

Situation 7: Enemy Counters in the Sectors Behind the Border Bases.
Interpretation: The further back from the borders a counter is, the more inaccurate any estimate of its intentions is going to be. On the other hand, the further back it is, the less likely it is that it will affect your flight. For the most part, look at what is happening at the border bases and figure the counters in the sectors around those bases and upping at nearby enemy bases are reinforcing whatever effort is going on there. If there is a friendly effort going on to take an enemy base, you can usually count on there being an enemy bomber heading for your closest base. Counters further back are probably an indication of the enemy getting major altitude in a buff. I generally don't mind a higher enemy and will go looking if it is one or two counters. Lots of high enemy, though, are a no-win situation. Just make sure you can be at the altitude you want to be at to deal with higher bogies before they reach you.

Once you have made your estimate of what is going on in the arena, it is time to plan your flight and take off. Once you have selected your plane and decided your take-off heading, you find yourself in your selected plane sitting on the runway. At this point you must quickly update your immediate, area and arena SA. Since you're not going to get killed by someone a sector or more away, start with your Immediate SA. If there is a chance of an enemy being at your base, check all of your views and your map/radar. Make a quick determination of whether or not things appear about as you expected and decide if you are still going to take off here. Assuming you weren't upping to join a quick low fight, you will want to take off, set course for where you want to go, and attain maximum climb. At this point, you should announce on channel 2 that you are up, where you upped from, the plane you are in, and possibly where you are going. For example:

up A51 G6->A52

This announces that I have upped at A51 in a 109G-6 and am heading towards A52. This information is critical to other players' SA. It gives an idea of who is up, where the action is, and where friendlies are if needed. After announcing you are up, switch back to your map/radar.

Arena SA In Flight

Arena SA while in flight is a little different from Arena SA in the OC/HQ/Airfield. During your initial climb-out, you will want to spend quite a bit of time looking at your map. Track counters as they move to help get a feel for what the bad guys are doing and, more importantly, if any are heading for your area of interest. Your main focus while in flight is to refine the estimate of the situation you developed before taking off and to track the counters which may come to influence your flight.

You can also check the roster while in flight to make sure there hasn't been a major change in odds since you did your first estimate of the situation.

As long as dar is working, you will see both friendly and enemy counters within range of your friendly radar. You want to focus on where counters come from and where they are going. Because fights tend to take place between certain bases, this will give you an indication of a probable flight path that you can use to plan an interception. Even the bases behind the border bases tend to support attacks on specific enemy bases. As you become familiar with the base layout of the arenas, you will recognize these patterns.

You must also pay attention to the text messages coming over the radio. This is perhaps one of the hardest things for new players to do and even experienced players often miss important information that comes over the text buffer. You will want to pay particular attention to information about enemy spotted along your chosen flight path and about the status of ack at both friendly and enemy bases which you may find yourself fighting over.

As soon as you have enemy counters in the sectors adjacent to yours, you must adjust your SA focus to include not only the arena but Area SA, too.

Area SA

The main focus of Area SA is to make decisions about whether to start a fight, continue a fight, disengage from a fight, or avoid a fight altogether. While actually engaged with an enemy, you will want to focus your SA to the Area and Immediate, which will be discussed next.

If you have enemy in any of the sectors adjoining the one you are in, it is time to decide on your course of action. Assuming your goal is at least the possibility of a successful fight, you will want to take a look at your area and decide if conditions are favorable for an engagement.

First, determine whether or not you are in friendly radar coverage and if so, at what point you would expect enemy planes to enter friendly radar coverage. Also determine whether or not you are in enemy radar coverage and, if not, at what point you will be. For the conditions necessary to be in radar coverage, see Understanding The Map and Radar. Having radar when your opponent does not is a major advantage in the time prior to merging. During the early part of your career (and even later on!), you will want to fly within friendly radar coverage whenever possible. Try to pick an intercept area that will give you friendly radar coverage.

Next, determine what the odds are likely to be. Is there one enemy counter without other enemy in the adjoining sectors? Is another enemy going to get to you before you finish your current engagement? Are there equal numbers of friendly and enemy likely to become engaged in the area at the same time? Do you have friendly help with you? Are there more enemy than friends? Only you can determine what odds are acceptable for you to engage or at least take a look at the enemy. Odds are not the only consideration, however. Other advantages can make up for bad odds. Besides considering the odds of your fight when you engage, you must also take into account any enemy (and friends) who might be able to reach your fight before it is finished. A plane flying at 250mph true airspeed will move across an entire grid square in 6 minutes.

The next thing to do is to consider at what altitude you might find the enemy. While you can get the odds from counting counters, your estimate of the enemy's altitude will be based on your Arena SA and your estimate of where the counters upped and how long they have been climbing. If you think you have a significant altitude advantage, you can afford to go take a look against even a large number of enemy. If you think the enemy has the advantage, you might want to climb away from them!

Immediate SA

Immediate SA is the SA you apply to your close fight. It deals with immediate threats to you. Any enemy within visual or radar range falls within your Immediate SA. So do counters in the same sector as you for which you don't have radar or visual. As you near the border of other sectors with enemy counters, they become part of your Immediate SA, too.

Just prior to gaining visual contact of the first enemy victim, zoom the map in so that you can see all of the sectors surrounding your sector (essentially the sectors comprising your area SA) in their entirety. As noted in the previous section, this is your SA focus while you are engaged. There are several phases to Immediate SA during the close fight.

First is location and identification. Locating and identifying the target(s) close enough to affect your fight is the first step to surviving. If you have radar coverage of the entire sector, you should know where in the sector the bogies are. What you don't know is their altitude and type. I always assume fighters until I can ID something as buff and my earlier SA estimate should give me some idea of the altitude at which I expect to see it. If you are in a sector with 2 or 3 dots on radar and you spot a low bogie, you can afford to look around for the other bogies before you engage. If you engage the low bogie before locating the others, you are potentially setting yourself up to be the low bogie engaged by a higher enemy. The situation is a little dicier if you don't have radar coverage. If you have altitude over the bogies you can see, you should assess the likelihood that there are others in the area. Are you close to an enemy base? Is there lots of activity in the surrounding areas? Are you on a well traveled route between two bases? You must also identify the most dangerous enemy. This is usually the highest fighter and is the bogie you will want to engage if you decided to engage at all.

If the odds were favorable and you decide to engage, you go into the engagement phase of your Immediate SA. In the engagement phase, your emphasis is on keeping your selected target in sight and keeping another enemy from getting onto your six o'clock while your are pre-occupied. You should check your rear and rear/up view throughout your fight. Additionally, you must check your map frequently to keep abreast of approaching threats. Knowing early that three or four additional enemy are coming towards your fight can allow you to disengage instead of getting gang-banged.

Another important element of Immediate SA is your contribution to other player's SA. In the section on Arena SA, I mentioned the importance of watching the text buffer for information. This information has to come from somewhere! When you locate an enemy plane visually, send a message on channel 2 giving as much information as possible. Update this information as you can. Key elements to give are location (using the map grid coordinate), type of plane, and altitude. Sending information on enemy locations is one of the dyeing arts as more and more players fail to recognize its importance. Don't be one of them!

Putting It All Together

You can know all that is going on around you, but the key to situation awareness is understanding what all of it means. You must constantly take the information you are gathering and use it to create a picture of the area around you. This picture must be updated continuously with information not only of what is around you, but what is going to be around you. You must also understand the capabilities of the planes around you, mainly in reference to how fast they can get to your fight, but that is the subject of another discussion. Practice and experience will help you make your picture more accurate. The farther from your location you can create an accurate picture, the more successful you will be in the SA fight and ultimately in Aces High!