Friendly Fire: Time For Action
SUBJECT AREA Warfighting
Title: Friendly Fire: Time For Action
Author: Major Bradford G. Washabaugh, United States Marine Corps
Thesis: Our recent experience during Operation Desert Storm reveals that
many of the primitive measures we employ to protect our ground forces
from friendly fire reflect neither the nature of modern combat nor the
capabilities of our weapons systems. To reduce friendly fire casualties
in future conflicts, the Marine Corps must implement changes in doctrine,
organization, training, and material.
Background: One of the most painful memories of the Gulf War is the
fact that 35 of the 148 U.S. combat deaths were caused by friendly fire.
Friendly fire has always been a tragic consequence of war. Despite
attempts to lessen its occurrence throughout history, it has remained
a battlefield fact of life. But as we are painfully reminded that the
problem of friendly fire continues to be an inseparable part of war,
we must recognize that the very nature of warfare has exacerbated
the problem. On today's fast, fluid, and firepower-intensive battlefield,
technology and our warfighting doctrine have increased rather than
decreased the risk of friendly fire. Most of the Gulf War friendly fire
incidents involved armored vehicles, struck by high-velocity, non-
explosive tank rounds that rely on kinetic energy to destroy the target.
According to battlefield investigations, poor situational awareness and
target identification during rapid maneuver, often at night and in conditions
of poor visibility, were cited as the primary causes of most of the war's
friendly fire incidents. Traditional methods used during the Gulf War to
lessen the chance of fire on friendly forces, such as the fluorescent
orange panels and the inverted "vee" painted on vehicles, were not
effective due to the prolonged periods of limited visibility in which even
thermal sights were not able to distinguish friend from foe. Although we
can never completely eliminate the chance of fire on friendly forces,
many critics have alleged that not enough has been done to minimize
its occurrence on the battlefield. Today, the Department of Defense
(DOD) is searching for solutions to the vexing problem of friendly fire.
Before dedicating time, effort, and money to the problem, the Marine
Corps must first develop a concept to serve as the basis for changes
to doctrine, organization, training, and materiel. Many solutions to the
friendly fire problem are possible, but no single approach or device is
likely to produce a sufficient, totally reliable capability for all situations.
We must realize that friendly fire can never be totally eliminated from
the battlefield due to the inability to prevent human error in the "fog of
war." A reasonable goal then is to take measures to reduce its probability
on the battlefield.
Recommendation: To minimize friendly fire casualties in future conflicts,
the Marine Corps must develop a concept which takes multiple measures
within the human and technological dimensions to improve situational
awareness and target identification.
FRIENDLY FIRE: TIME FOR ACTION
Thesis Statement. Our recent experience during Operation Desert Storm
reveals that many of the primitive measures we employ to protect our
ground forces reflect neither the nature of modern combat nor the
capabilities of our weapons systems. To reduce friendly fire casualties
in future conflicts, the Marine Corps must implement changes in doctrine,
organization, training, and materiel.
I. Historical Background
A. What Is Friendly Fire?
B. Measures Taken In Past Wars
C. Causes and Effects of Friendly Fire
D. The Gulf War vs. Historical Data
II. The Modern Battlefield
A. Warfighting Doctrine
B. Advanced Weapons In Limited Visibility
C. Coalition Warfare
III. Operation Desert Storm Friendly Fire Incidents
A. U.S. Forces
B. U.S. --Coalition Forces
C. Common Denominators
IV. Measures Taken To Prevent Friendly Fire During
Operation Desert Storm
A. Visual Devices
D. Control Measures
E. GPS/PLRS Navigation Aids
V. On-going Efforts Today To Reduce Friendly Fire
A. DOD Initiatives
B. Army Proposals
C. Training Initiatives
D. IFF Systems
VI. Concept For The Future
C. Recommended Changes
FRIENDLY FIRE: TIME FOR ACTION
The First Marine Division's plan for breaching the primary Iraqi
defensive belt is bold. A supporting force of 2 foot-mobile infantry
regiments will cross the Kuwait border before G-day to clear enemy
resistance from trenches for a mechanized infantry regiment conducting
the main attack. The assault elements of the division have been
rehearsing their part in the breach for weeks. By G-day, advance units
of the division successfully infiltrate on foot through a deadly
minefield. They clear an Iraqi fortified position which threatens the
mechanized breaching force, Task Force Ripper, with anti-tank guided
missiles. As the sun begins to rise, a light rain starts falling under
skies still dark from the smoke of burning oil fires. The advance unit
of foot-mobile Marines pauses to don protective gear after an alarm warns
of an impending Iraqi chemical attack. Still, as the Marines await the
breach of the Iraqi defenses by Task Force Ripper, they remain confident.
They believe in their gear, their training, and their leaders.
Suddenly, the noise of battle erupts around the advance force
Marines as Task Force Ripper makes its assault. Heavy machine-gun and
tank rounds cut through the air, impacting around them. It takes only
seconds to realize that the fire is not from the enemy, but from their
fellow Marines in Task Force Ripper. Miraculously, only one Marine dies
before unit leaders bring the misdirected fire under control.
Unfortunately, Lance Corporal Christian Porter becomes part of a now
well-known statistic: he is one of the 35 Americans killed by their
comrades during Operation Desert Storm.1
Months have passed since the end of the Gulf War, yet Americans
continue to receive similar, but no less tragic accounts from the media.
As we are painfully reminded that the problem of friendly fire continues
to be an inseparable part of war, we need to recognize also that the very
nature of modern warfare has exacerbated the problem. On today's fast,
fluid, and firepower-intensive battlefield, technology and our
warfighting doctrine have increased rather than decreased the risk of
Although we can never completely eliminate the chance of fire on
friendly forces, many critics have alleged that not enough has been done
to minimize its occurrence on the battlefield. Brigadier General P. K.
Van Riper, USMC, in an early assessment of lessons learned in the Gulf
War observed, "Friendly fire, as in all wars, had tragic results. This
is a problem insufficiently studied in the past. The time has come to
devote a significant effort to ensure that we reduce incidents in future
Our recent experience during Operation Desert Storm reveals that
many of the primitive measures used to protect our ground forces reflect
neither the nature of modern combat nor the capabilities of our weapons
systems. For this reason, the view that friendly fire has been, and
always will be, a tragic but inevitable part of the controlled chaos of
war must be questioned.
The purpose of this paper is to examine the problem of friendly fire
during Operation Desert Storm and propose a concept for the Marine Corps
to help minimize friendly fire casualties on the next battlefield. The
proposed concept involves changes in doctrine, organization, training,
FRIENDLY FIRE: AN AGE OLD PROBLEM
No official definition for friendly fire, also referred to as
fratricide or amicicide, exists. The lack of a precise, clearly defined
term has caused disagreement about what is or is not a friendly fire
casualty. Debate still continues as to whether the 11 Americans killed
by unexploded allied munitions in the Gulf War were "non-battle deaths"
or friendly fire casualties. By the Pentagon's account, these deaths
were not attributable to friendly fire, although critics have argued
otherwise.3 A universally accepted definition for friendly fire does not
exist. To the Pentagon, friendly fire describes the inadvertent fire by
military forces upon their own or allied forces during combat operations-
-it does not describe deaths from unexploded allied ordnance and mines or
non-battle deaths from accidents.
Researchers have found that historical information on friendly fire
is scarce, often erroneous, and is usually incomplete. As noted by LtCol
Charles R. Schrader in his 1982 study Amicicide: The Problem of Friendly
Fire in Modern War,
. . . the researcher must collect and analyze the scattered, often
cryptic, references to amicicide found in general operational
military histories or in the available official documents of combat
units . . . Commanders may be reluctant to report instances of casualties
due to friendly fire because they are afraid of damaging unit or
personal reputations, because they have a misplaced concern for the
morale of surviving troops or the benefits and honors due the dead
and wounded, or simply because of a desire to avoid the unprofitable
conflicts with personnel of supporting or adjacent units.4
Throughout history armies have taken steps to prevent friendly fire
casualties. As early as the seventeenth century, measures such as drill,
organization, discipline, and brightly colored uniforms were used to
prevent troops from firing on each other.5 During this century we have
seen many examples of preventive measures developed to reduce friendly
fire. These measures included flares during World War I and white
stripes painted on aircraft during the Normandy invasion in World War II.
In further conflicts following World War II, fluorescent air panels,
electronic Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) devices, and inverted
"vees" were painted on vehicles.
The death of a soldier from friendly fire has been described as
". . . the most ghastly type of casualty you can anticipate."6 The
emotional impact of friendly fire casualties may be more destructive to a
unit's morale and fighting capacity than enemy fire. Each incident can
cause a gradual degradation of combat power by lowering morale and
confidence in supporting arms, a factor so vital to combined arms
The effect of friendly fire on combat power is both complex and
subtle. In the past, friendly fire seemed to have had only a local and
temporary effect on the final outcome of tactical operations. It has
certainly delayed, disrupted, and weakened operations. On occasion,
friendly fire has even caused withdrawals and local defeats. Today,
friendly fire incidents, no matter how localized, may have wide-ranging
consequences. Once only a tactical problem, friendly fire now has
influence on operations at every level of war. For example, the effect
of friendly fire on the national will alone may jeopardize the tolerance
of the U.S. public to endure casualties in war. As a study of Vietnam
friendly fire incidents found,
The statistics and examples of incidents, although important,
cannot and do not of themselves reveal the complete picture of the
deplorable loss of life by fire from friendly sources. All Service
components are acutely aware of the seriousness of these incidents in
terms of lowered effectiveness of the fighting forces, lessened
rapport between U.S. forces, themselves, and Vietnamese nationals,
and the unquestionable adverse effect on the overall military
Schrader concludes in his study that there is nothing at all
mysterious about the cause of ground friendly fire; incidents of friendly
ground troops firing on one another are natural products of the fog of
battle. He says, "In every war, inexperienced and nervous soldiers,
poorly planned or inadequately coordinated operations, and occasionally
poor fire discipline or true mistaken identification result in friendly
forces inadvertently engaging each other with weapons ranging from rifles
and hand grenades to tanks and anti-tank guns."8
While searching for the causes of friendly fire, Schrader considered
such factors as visibility, the type of tactical operation in progress,
the type of weapon being used, and the degree of coordination between
units. He found that of these factors, target misidentification and the
lack of adequate coordination were frequent contributors to the problem.
But in Schrader's final analysis, he identified the primary cause of most
friendly fire incidents as being direct human error--rooted in fear,
inexperience, and the inherent chaos and fog of battle.9
Every war, especially those of the 20th century, has had a
significant number of casualties from friendly fire. The number of
battlefield deaths caused by friendly fire in wars of this century, with
the exception of the the Gulf War, has been impossible to determine with
any reasonable degree of accuracy. Schrader suggested that friendly fire
has accounted for something less than 2 percent of all battle casualties
in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.10
In the Gulf War, friendly fire accounted for twenty-four percent of
battle deaths. Statistically, this is a higher rate than any other major
conflict fought by the U.S. in this century. But this percentage can be
misleading, according to a Department of Defense (DOD) spokesman. In
DOD's view, deaths from friendly fire were expected to be higher than in
the past because of the short duration of the war, limited casualties,
and the more thorough investigations done after each case of suspected
friendly fire.11 Those investigations included interviews of witnesses
and radiological examinations of battle-damaged vehicles to definitely
confirm hits by U.S. depleted uranium tank rounds. Gun films and voice
tapes used by attack helicopters and jet aircraft were also closely
THE MODERN BATTLEFIELD
Using aggressive and fluid warfighting doctrine and employing long-
range precision fire weapons in limited visibility made the Gulf War very
different than previous conflicts. Fighting with coalition forces having
equipment very similar to that of the enemy also created unusual
problems. However, many of these factors will continue to characterize
future wars, regardless of the spectrum of conflict or its intensity.
Service doctrines such as the Army's Airland Battle and the Marine
Corps' Maneuver Warfare depend on securing or retaining the initiative
and exercising it aggressively to accomplish the mission. The very
nature of these doctrines, with their fluid maneuver against enemy
weaknesses, create a certain level of unavoidable risk--a risk which
increases the chance of a friendly fire incident. Paradoxically,
although our warfighting doctrine can increase the danger of fire from
friendly forces, maneuver warfare is designed to save lives. According
to Lieutenant General Martin Brandtner, Director of Operations for the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, "The very means by which we won the victory did
cause, to some extent, the battlefield situation that resulted in some of
these incidents. If we had plodded along methodically, conservatively,
and hadn't gone after them in the highly aggressive manner that we did,
the (overall) casualty rate would have been significantly higher."12
Risk of friendly fire is also increased when doctrine is carelessly
applied, as is often the case with poorly trained and inexperienced
units. Doctrinal control measures, such as unit boundaries, fire support
coordination lines, and engagement criteria, are designed to reduce the
risk of interference between units. However, these control measures
cannot always provide protection, especially when units lack situational
awareness, as was often the case during Operation Desert Storm. Combat
during the Gulf War was characterized by fast-paced maneuvers across
large distances, conducted at night, or in other conditions of reduced
visibility. Armored units moved day and night during the four-day ground
war and covered distances in the hundreds of miles. Without identifiable
terrain features, units easily became disoriented, lost situational
awareness, and ran unexpectedly into other friendly units while moving at
high speed and with guns ready to fire. The tendency in such cases was
to shoot first and ask questions later.
Doctrine has also changed the geometry of the modern battlefield.
Instead of the traditional linear formations used in previous wars,
converging formations of large maneuver units have transformed the
battlefield into a non-linear configuration. A fluid, non-linear
battlefield can cause confusion regarding the location of enemy and
friendly units. Under such conditions they are likely to become
Some analysts attribute the higher rate of friendly fire losses to
engagements at longer ranges during periods of limited visibility with
advanced weapons and fire control systems. James A. Blackwell Jr., a
former Army officer and now deputy director of Political-Military Studies
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies observed, "There's
been a revolution on the battlefield. The application of precision-
guided munitions and information processing gives a new dimension to the
opportunities for friendly fire that we didn't anticipate."13
Technology was so advanced during the Gulf War that troops with
thermal sights could detect heat from tanks when normal vision was
obscured. But these sights can fail to distinguish between friend or
foe, as they sometimes did during the Gulf War, especially in conditions
of reduced visibility. Compounding the problem is the lack of effective
identification measures. As an Army report dealing with battle accidents
stated, "We can shoot farther than we can see."14 In the Gulf,
visibility was often obscured by rain, sandstorms, and the smoke from oil
fires. The fact that fighting takes place at long ranges, by both tanks
and aircraft using standoff techniques, increases the danger. At long
distances, gunners or pilots looking through thermal sights can easily
mistake friend for foe. For example, the thermal sights used in the M1A1
tank and the TOW anti-armor weapon may only be able to distinguish
hostile targets with sufficient clarity to about 1500 meters, far below
the maximum range of these weapons. In a "shoot first or be killed"
situation, gunners looking at a nearly shapeless blob in their thermal
sights must take a calculated risk.
The lethality of our modern weapons also adds to the problem.
Lieutenant General Charles A. Horner, the Joint Air Force Component
Commander (JFACC) of the U.S. Central Command during the Gulf War,
notes that the impact of a single modern weapon gone astray can be
catastrophic. "If an incident happened in World War II or Korea, you had
a guy with a shrapnel wound. Now you have large numbers of Killed in
Action (KIA) and Wounded in Action (WIA)."15 Another factor which
may be typical of future military conflicts is the likelihood of coalition
warfare. Coalition forces can expect to fight with different doctrine,
training levels, and equipment, especially armored vehicles and aircraft.
In modern warfare, it is now likely that coalition forces will have
equipment similar to that of the enemy, as was the case with Syria's T-72
tanks in the Gulf War. Future enemies could also have equipment similar
to our own, purchased from allies. Without distinctive differences in
equipment, coalition forces will have difficulty distinguishing friend
The future battlefield, as in the Gulf War, will likely be fast-
paced, fluid, and highly lethal. Coalition forces will be matched
against enemy forces with equipment indistinguishable from their own.
Leaders will use aggressive, innovative maneuver tactics and
sophisticated weaponry to bring quick and decisive victories. Under such
conditions, the risk of friendly fire incidents remains high.
DESERT STORM FRIENDLY FIRE INCIDENTS
Following Operation Desert Storm, the military made the most
accurate accounting of friendly fire incidents in the history of warfare.
After painstaking investigations, the Pentagon determined that friendly
fire was responsible for at least 35 of the 148 Americans killed and 72
of the 467 wounded. Of the 28 reported incidences of friendly fire,
ground-to-ground engagements were the most prevalent, causing 24 KIA and
57 WIA in 16 incidents. This followed by air-to-ground engagements,
causing 11 KIA and 15 WIA. Although there was one ship-to-ship, one
shore-to-ship, and one ground-to-air engagement, these incidents resulted
in no friendly fire casualties.16
Of the 35 servicemen killed, all were soldiers or Marines. Army
killed included 1 M1A1 crewman, 15 Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV)
crewmen, and one crewman from a modified M113 armored personnel carrier.
Four were ground soldiers. Of the 65 Army wounded, 49 were BFV crewmen,
and 7 were tank crewmen. Nine were ground soldiers.17
The Marines' 14 KIA included 11 Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) crewmen
and 3 infantrymen. Of the 7 Marines wounded, two were LAV crewmen and 5
were on foot or in trucks. One sailor was wounded while serving with a
Marine reconnaissance unit.18
The majority of the friendly fire ground-to-ground incidents
involved armored vehicles, struck by high-velocity, non-explosive tank
rounds that rely on kinetic energy to destroy the target. Of the 35 KIA
and 72 WIA, 28 dead and 58 wounded were crew members of armored
vehicles. Had it not been for the built-in safety and survivability features
of the M1A1 tank and the BFV, more casualties would have likely resulted
from these vehicle hits. Some of these features included fire suppression
systems and hardened armor.19
Of the 9 air-to-ground incidents, 4 were from the Air Force, 1 from
an Army attack helicopter, 1 from a Marine aircraft, and 3 were from High
Speed Anti-Irradiation Missiles (HARMs) from sources still undetermined.20
U.S. fire also caused casualties among our allies. According to the
UK Ministry of Defense, 22 UK personnel were killed or wounded in
accidental attacks by American forces. The worst air-to-ground incident
of the war occurred when 2 U.S. Air Force A-10 aircraft pilots, confident
they were over an Iraqi armored column, fired Maverick missiles against
what turned out to be 37 British Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles
(IFVs). The attack occurred in daylight and killed 9 British soldiers
and wounded 11. 21 In another incident, two soldiers were wounded when 2
Scorpion reconnaissance vehicles were fired upon by U.S. M1A1 tanks.22
Furthermore, in incidents about which Pentagon officials decline to
comment, U.S. ordnance caused casualties among Arab allies. In one case,
the Saudi Army's Eighth Brigade was hit by Marine Corps A-6 aircraft 12
miles inside the "no fire" line near the Saudi-Kuwait border, resulting
in eight killed and 12 wounded. According to a source who witnessed the
incident, the Saudi commander refused to complain to the Americans
because "he did not want to lose U.S. air support."23
What were the causes of friendly fire incidents? According to
incident investigations and Service studies, numerous contributing
factors such as the flat, almost featureless terrain, limited visibility,
and fast-moving offensive action with complex formations were identified.
Two factors stood out in nearly all investigations and studies as the
primary causes of friendly fire. Factor one was the inability to
maintain situational awareness (accurate knowledge of one's own location,
as well as the locations of friendly, enemy, neutrals, and noncombatants)
The second was the lack of positive target identification (accurate,
dependable, through-sight discrimination between friend or foe).24
MEASURES TAKEN TO PREVENT FRIENDLY FIRE
321 DURING OPERATION DESERT STORM
Fighting side by side with Syrian and Egyptian units equipped with
Soviet-built tanks were 3,529 American tanks and combat vehicles. This
prompted U.S. forces to seek preventive measures to reduce the risks of
friendly fire before the start of the war.25 Such measures included
visual techniques, technological initiatives, and training to reinforce
doctrinal warfighting procedures. However, by the war's end it was
apparent that these actions were only partially successful in thwarting
friendly fire incidents.
Before the start of the war, coalition forces designated the
inverted "vee" and the VS-17 panel (a fluorescent orange panel) as
standard vehicle marking to improve ground-to-ground and air-to-air
identification and control. But visual devices were not effective
because of the prolonged periods of limited visibility in which even
thermal sights were not able to distinguish friend from foe. An interim
post-war report by the Pentagon concluded that despite more than 5
months of coordination and effort to mark thousands of tanks and
armored vehicles, "the procedures and material used by coalition
forces were only marginally effective. . .we have yet to devise a
cost-effective approach to achieving improved identification
Coalition forces trained extensively before Operation Desert Storm
to hone warfighting skills. As units prepared for combat, they conducted
numerous rehearsals, sand table briefings, and maneuver and live fire
exercises. These emphasized such critical tasks as command and
control measures, fire support coordination procedures, adjacent unit
coordination, and liaison teams. In addition, day/night operations,
limited visibility operations, and engagement rules were addressed.
According to after-action reports by the Services, this training did much
to reduce friendly fire incidents.27
Also cited by the Services was the use of doctrinal control measures
such as the Fire Support Coordination Line (FSCL), Coordinated Fire Line
(CFL), boundaries, and air defense engagement rules. According to a
joint report on the conduct of the war, the lack of control measures was
not the most significant cause of friendly fire incidents, although it did
prove to be a contributory cause in some cases.28 Doctrinal control
measures cannot prevent friendly fire incidents if targets are misidentified,
situational awareness is lost, or if control measures are sloppily applied.
The author of a report on friendly fire casualties in Vietnam noted,
They (friendly fire incidents) also serve as a reminder that the
battlefield is and always has been a strict and harsh disciplinarian.
Those who have deviated from proven techniques, used "short cuts"
because it was the easy way out or failed to follow directives and
established procedures, have done so with disastrous results.29
After the first cases of friendly fire casualties during Operation
Desert Storm, then Lieutenant General Michael Carns, USAF, Director of
tile Joint Staff, ordered development of a "quick-fix" to the problem of
firing on friendly forces. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
(DARPA) examined more than 61 proposals representing 41 different off-
the-shelf technical approaches across five technology categories: thermal
imagery, infrared imagery, laser, radio frequency, and visual techniques.
After evaluations, a U.S. company, Test Systems Incorporated, was awarded
a $3.2 million contract in February 1991 to provide nearly 100,000 Anti-
Fratricide Identification Devices (AFIDs). The AFID is a battery-powered
infrared beacon mounted on vehicles to provide identification through
thermal sights. Unfortunately, only 196 systems were delivered prior to
the cease-fire, hardly enough to have any measurable effect in reducing
friendly fire incidents.30
The Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Position Locating and
Reporting System (PLRS), although not specifically designed to prevent
fire from friendly forces, nevertheless were very effective in this role.
These small, lightweight receivers provided units with nearly exact
coordinates and locations on the ground. By enhancing navigation,
maneuver control, position reporting, and situational awareness, the risk
of inadvertent fire was reduced. Although very effective, there was an
unfortunate lack of these devices available during the war. A wider
distribution would have greatly helped command and control, coordination,
and safety of ground units.31
ON-GOING EFFORTS TODAY TO REDUCE
FRIENDLY FIRE INCIDENTS
What is being done to reduce the risk of friendly fire in future
conflicts? Critics have alleged that the military has historically been
haphazard in its efforts to reduce fire on friendly forces. Despite
the problem being nearly as old as war itself, reducing friendly fire
casualties always has been a low priority. As one officer pointed out,
development of "Identification-Friend or Foe (IFF) technology has never
been a high budgetary priority since. . .in peacetime. . . the attitude is we
can only afford so much. We'll fix it later on."32 In the Gulf War, the
"fix" took the form of painting an unobtrusive and hard-to-see inverted
"vee" on the sides of American and allied vehicles, as well as the
traditional fluorescent panels for identification from the air. However,
neither fix helped identify friend or foe through thermal sights. An
intense government-industry effort during the war to produce the Anti-
Fratricide Identification Device, (AFID), was a step in the right
direction, but it came too late to be of any help.
After the war, the problem of reducing friendly fire incidents
continues to be examined. In October 1991, the Army Chief of Staff,
General Gordon R. Sullivan, recommended the establishment of a joint
organization to focus solely on friendly fire problems, including
acquisition of hardware and software to improve the means of
identification of friend or foe in combat. The proposed office will have
a structure similar to other program offices and its manager will answer
to a general officer's steering committee and to the Joint Requirements
Oversight Committee on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A DOD-wide office will
ensure continued interest, effort, and coordination throughout the
services. The constant evolution of weapon systems and their spread to
potentially hostile powers is another reason why a permanent combat
identification office must be established. Any system retains a few
years advantage since its superiority on the battlefield is only a
function of time, place, and current technology. The Army's Training and
Doctrine Command (TRADOC) has been appointed as the lead agent to work
with the other Services to develop solutions in doctrine, training,
organization, materiel, and technology.
Change in the military is effected in four ways: doctrine, training,
organization, and materiel. While reviews of doctrine and organization
are still ongoing, the Services have recognized that to help minimize
friendly fire casualties in the next conflict, action in the areas of
materiel and training is also necessary to improve situational awareness
and target identification. According to Colonel Roger Brown, Deputy
Assistant to the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans,
most of the friendly fire incidents during Operation Desert Storm were
caused by misidentification of targets. Although he stated, "no complete
solution for avoiding misidentification exists," a recent study concluded
the Army "cannot accept casualties that can be prevented by our own
actions to improve identification in combat." This study proposed a
phased approach involving possible "quick," mid-term, and long-term
materiel fixes to reduce the problem of firing on friendly forces.33
The "quick-fix" phase encompasses devices such as DARPA (Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency) lights and BUDD lights (named
after its inventor). These as well as thermal tape are now available or could
be procured quickly and issued to units. A DARPA light is a battery-
powered, near-infrared beacon visible through standard third generation
night goggles from a distance of approximately 5 miles under normal night
viewing conditions. BUDD lights are small, blinking infrared beacons,
powered by simple 9-volt batteries, visible through the thermal night
sights commonly issued to ground units. Low-emission thermal tape also
shows up on thermal sights. Equipping vehicles with these devices would
aid in target identification during periods of reduced visibility.
A technological strategy used to provide a quick-fix for improving
situation awareness is to equip deploying forces with more Global
Positioning System (GPS) and Position Location arid Reporting System
(PLRS) units. These small, lightweight receivers provide users with
exact coordinates of their own and adjacent unit locations. By equipping
more units and vehicles with these devices, better control of maneuver
forces is ensured, thereby reducing the risk of firing on friendly
The mid-term fix phase includes using off-the-shelf technology to
procure infrared (IR) beacons with ranges from 6 to 10 kilometers, and
laser warning receivers that can warn crews when their vehicle has been
located by a targeting laser. These measures would further enhance
target identification, especially at the extended distances typical of
The long-term fix phase involves producing sensors which respond
automatically to electronic queries from computers that recognize radar
signatures made by various friendly and enemy units. This solution would
reduce the danger from computer-controlled weapons, such as the HARM.
During the Gulf War, several HARMs steered themselves to hit U.S. radars
mounted on ships and trucks, killing one Marine and wounding three.34
Situational awareness reduces the potential for friendly fire by
providing real-time, accurate knowledge of one's relative position, as
well as locations of friendlies, enemies, neutrals, and noncombatants.
Improvements in situational awareness are being proposed predominantly
through unit and leader training, aided by technological advancements in
position location and reporting systems. Each Service is trying to
incorporate the lessons learned from the Gulf War into its training
center. The Army's National Training Center (NTC) and the Marine Corps'
Air-Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC), for example, offer ideal training
areas and facilities to hone critical combat skills related to the
prevention of friendly fire casualties.
Units training at the NTC now find a new emphasis on friendly fire.
The philosophy at the NTC is that better training, focusing on the human
dimension of combat, will help reduce friendly fire incidents. After-
act ion reviews are conducted following each battle to discuss the causes
and responsibility of every friendly fire incident experienced during
force-on-force training. Observers and controllers stress techniques to
prevent battlefield friendly fire such as effective direct-fire planning,
clearance of indirect fires, rehearsals, and discipline. Finally, force-
on-force training with hit indicators and source recorders is one
proposal to help develop situational awareness.35
The second key factor in reducing friendly fire is positive target
identification. Ensuring positive target identification reduces the
probability of fire on friendly forces by accurate, dependable, through-
sight discrimination between friend or foe. Misidentification of
targets must be prevented. A means for positive identification out to
the maximum range of weapon and target acquisition systems in reduced
visibility is necessary.
The search for suitable IFF systems has been difficult. In 1980,
the Pentagon established a joint services IFF development program at
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. A decade later, little progress has
occured. One reason for slow progress is that the U.S. has yet to meet
the technical challenge of developing an IFF system that an enemy force
cannot emulate or neutralize.36 According to a senior Air Force off ical,
other reasons have contributed to the slow development of an IFF system.
Electronic systems, similar to current air-to-air identification systems,
are prone to malfunction, which could lead to even more friendly fire
casualties. Also, ground vehicles with transmitting devices or passive
systems with sensors or signatures could alert the enemy to friendly
positions. Finally, the cost to produce such devices can be
CONCEPT FOR THE FUTURE
Before dedicating time, effort, and money to the problem, the Marine
Corps should first develop a concept to serve as the basis for changes to
doctrine, organization, training, and materiel. Many solutions to the
friendly fire problem are possible, but no single approach such as an IFF
device is likely to produce a sufficient, totally reliable capability for
all situations. We must realize that friendly fire can never be totally
eliminated from the battlefield due to the inability to prevent human
error in the "fog of war." A reasonable goal then is to take multiple
measures within the human and technological dimensions to reduce the
probability of friendly fire.
To lessen the chance of fire on friendly forces, the Marine Corps'
concept should improve the two major factors contributing to the problem:
poor situational awareness and target misidentification. As concluded by
an earlier study on friendly fire, "If we know where we are and where
our friends are in relation to us, we can reduce the probability of
friendly fire. If, in addition, we can distinguish between friend,
neutral, and enemy, we can reduce that probability even more."38
No change is necessary in the Marine Corps' fundamental warfighting
doctrine. Based upon rapid, flexible, and opportunistic action, maneuver
warfare involves defeating enemy forces through bold, swift, decisive
action. In comparison to an attrition style of warfare, maneuver warfare
relies on overwhelming, selective firepower to suppress the enemy while
maneuvering Marine unit's strength against an enemy's weakness. Maneuver
warfare, however, has added a new degree of complexity to the modern
battlefield, making the risk of friendly fire even greater than before.
Strict adherence to doctrinal control and fire support coordination
measures is the key to offsetting that higher risk. The battlefield cannot
become an unrestricted environment without control measures. They
are an absolute requirement in maneuver warfare. Standard control
measures ensure coordination and allow the flexibility of action needed
by commanders using maneuver warfare doctrine. The old battlefield has
disappeared. Realizing that maneuver warfare has increased the potential
for friendly fire incidents, commanders now must correctly apply the
science of their profession with precise use of doctrinally sound control
However, some of our control measures need revision. Current
control measures originated on a linear battlefield and lack the
safeguards necessary for the future battlefield. Traditional, linear and
non-continuous boundaries can be replaced by continuous, non-linear ones
that specifically define areas of responsibility. In other words, closed
goose egg-type boundaries instead of opened ended box-type boundaries
would facilitate maneuver in any direction.
Fire support coordination measures also require re-examination. For
example, the restricted fire line (RFL) could be eliminated and replaced
by the restricted fire area (RFA) to ensure better control of forces
converging from any direction.39
Other changes are also necessary. First, the Services must agree on
a joint definition of friendly fire that defines the scope of the problem
and to guide the development of preventive measures. I recommend the
definition be: "The unnecessary destruction of or fire upon one's own or
allied forces resulting from a lack of situational awareness or target
misidentification during combat operations, regardless of the method of
delivery or munition."
Second, the doctrine for joint and combined warfare needs revision
to ensure commonality and clarity of terms, control and fire support
coordination measures, and combat identification. For example, a
standard set of procedures should be the basis for joint and combined
Close Air Support (CAS) and IFF procedures and it should be incorporated
into a joint CAS publication.
Third, publications involving tactics, techniques, and procedures
need to include detailed guidance on how to apply doctrine to
circumstances when the risk of friendly fire is extremely high. The
guidance should cover control measures for direct and indirect fire in
the offense, airspace management, operations in limited visibility,
unexploded ordnance reporting, and emergency combat identification
Organizational changes also can reduce the probability of friendly
fire incidents in future conflicts. In the near term, establishing more
liaison teams to better coordinate and communicate between adjacent
units, especially among joint, allied and coalition forces will enhance
situational awareness. To be effective, liaison teams must have
appropriate language skills and be well-versed in fire support
procedures, communications and U.S. military doctrine. The assignment of
personnel dedicated solely to plotting and maintaining friendly unit
positions in command and control centers will also improve situational
awareness. In the far term, the Marine Corps must enlarge the
organization of the Tactical Exercise and Evaluation Control Group
(TEECG) at the Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) in
Twentynine Palms, California, to provide quality force-on-force training
similar to that of the Army at its National Training Center (NTC) in Ft.
Measures to reduce friendly fire must also improve human abilities.
Nowhere can this be gained except in battle or in intense, meaningful
training. Rigorous training under conditions resembling actual combat
must reinforce maneuver warfare and the need for unremitting attention to
detail in doctrine as well as correct application of military science.
Strict fire discipline, controlled by calm and capable leaders, is a
fundamental requirement. Operations must be planned and thoroughly
coordinated with a realistic assessment for the risk of friendly fire.
The best place to begin improving human ability is at Service
training centers. Force-on-force training followed with after-action
reviews to discuss the causes and responsibility of friendly fire
incidents experienced would promote situational awareness. Exercises
conducted at Service combat training centers also could serve as a means
to validate friendly fire prevention concepts. Enhancement of Service
combat training centers with remote-controlled, friendly targets on tank
and infantry live-fire ranges, force-on-force training with hit
indicators/source recorders, and friendly fire data collection must be a
priority. Forceful attention to the human causes of friendly fire can
reduce the chance for individual error in the "fog of war".
Materiel change, in the form of technological advancements, can
assist in reducing the problem of friendly fire by improving situational
awareness and target identification. Technology has permitted us to
maneuver with highly mobile and autonomous forces and to use weapon
systems of greatly increased range, however, it has not provided us with
adequate measures to protect our forces from friendly fire.
Compared to the other methods to effect change, technology can be
the most difficult, time-consuming and cost-prohibitive. Therefore, the
Marine Corps must proceed wisely and to implement solutions best
suited to its needs and available resources. To do this, five objectives
should guide our actions,
First, any friendly fire solution should result in multiple benefits.
Solutions for improved situational awareness or target identification
should also result in a corresponding improvement in weapons capability,
navigation, position reporting, and command and control. For example,
situational awareness can be greatly improved by providing command and
control centers with real-time displays of enemy and friendly unit
locations. This would reduce the chance of inadvertent fire by
disoriented friendly units. At the same time, friendly unit ability to
locate and engage enemy forces would be enhanced.
As directed by DOD, the search for technological and materiel
solutions must be a joint and combined effort to ensure interoperability.
Accordingly, the Marine Corps should closely follow allied and other
Services' studies and developments, especially those of the Army's
Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).
Second, a phased approach to fielding equipment or improving
existing systems should be taken to develop near, mid, and far term
solutions to situational awareness and target identification. Near term
solutions should use off-the-shelf technology to prepare military forces
for immediate employment, while mid and far term solutions will be based
upon evolving technologies.
Third, in order to close the gap between human ability and system
capability, positive target identification through weapons sights to the
maximum effective range of weapon and target acquisition systems is
necessary. New weapons systems must include provisions for better target
identification and aid situational awareness.
Fourth, an IFF capability is needed for surface-to-surface, air-to-
surface, surface-to-air, and air-to-air situations. Priority should be
given to surface-to-surface and air-to-surface situations involving
armored vehicles. Ideally, IFF devices should be simple, not easily
exploited by enemy forces, cost-effective, have a day or night all-
weather capability, and be deployable to coalition forces.
Finally, the Marine Corps should establish a project office to oversee
development, testing, and fielding of proposed technological and materiel
solutions. Testing, evaluation, and validation of solutions should be
done in conjunction with input from combat training centers. The Marine
Corps must work closely with the permanent DOD combat identification
office to ensure coordination, interoperability, and currency in fielded
Nothing compares to the stress, confusion, and emotion of combat.
People make decisions that are irreversible, and other people may
die as a result. The death of a soldier is always tragic, but never more
so than when he is inadvertently killed by his own comrades. Despite
efforts to prevent friendly fire, it has been one of the inevitable costs
of war. One of the most unfortunate memories of the Gulf War is the fact
that 35 of the 148 U.S. combat fatalities were caused by friendly fire.
Because a large portion of U.S. combat deaths were due to friendly fire,
it has been difficult for the American people to accept that the quick
and decisive victory against Iraq likely saved hundreds of lives. But to
many this question has remained: Did those killed by friendly fire have
According to battlefield investigations, poor situational awareness
and target misidentification were the key contributors to friendly fire
incidents during Operation Desert Storm. Military technology and our
warfighting doctrine have increased rather than reduced tide problem of
friendly fire on today's lethal and fluid battlefield. The Gulf War shows
that we have not yet developed adequate measures to reduce friendly
Friendly fire affects the tactical, operational and even strategic
levels of war, making the price of friendly fire too high to delay the
search for solutions. However, the search for a remedy to the problem
of friendly fire is a difficult one. No single approach is likely to provide
a sufficient, totally reliable capability for all situations.
The Marine Corps' concept for reducing the chance of friendly fire
must include multiple strategies involving changes in doctrine,
organization, training, and materiel. These strategies should focus on
improving situational awareness and target identification. Technology is
not the sole solution. Materiel change can do much to help reduce
friendly fire incidents by improving the ability to locate and identify
friendly troops, and enhancing command and control. But the human
dimension must not be neglected either; the best equipment poorly
employed will not lessen friendly fire casualties.
The problem of friendly fire will never be completely eliminated
because the "fog of war", human error, and materiel failure inevitably
will make some Instances of friendly fire impossible to avoid. Our duty
is to take all reasonable measures to minimize its tragic occurrence.
1. Personal experience of author while serving as Operations Officer
for 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, Task Force Grizzly, 1st Marine Division during
Operation Desert Storm.
2. Paul K. Van Riper, "Observations during Operation Desert Storm,
"Marine Corps Gazette 75 (June 1991): 61.
3. Triumph Without Victory (New York: U.S. News and World Report,
1992), p. IX.
4. Charles R. Schrader, Amicicide: The Problem of Friendly Fire In
(U.S. Army Command and Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 1982),
5. Martin van Creveld,Command In War (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1985), p. 52.
6. James A. Blackwell, Albany, New York, Sunday Times Union, 21 July
1991 as quoted in LtCol. George H. Harmryer and Maj. John F. Antal, "The
Problem of Battlefield Fratricide," (Fort Irwin: Operations Group, National
Training Center, August 1991), p. 9.
7. U.S. Army, Army Regulation 600-100, The Army Casualty System,
15 January 1976, with change 1, dated 15 September 1978 as cited by Schrader,
8. Schrader, p. 101.
9. Ibid., p. 107.
10. Ibid., p. 105.
11. Stewart M. Powell, "Friendly Fire,"Air Force Magazine, (December
1991) pp. 60-61.
12. Ibid., p. 60.
13. Ibid., p. 61.
14. Army Acquisition Command Combat Identification Task Force,
Combat Identification Interim Report, 11 December 1991.
15. Powell, p. 61.
16. Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff, Title V Report to congress (Draft),
Appendix M, 13 January 1992, pp. M-3-M-4.
21. "Friendly Fire," Air Force Times, 26 August 1991, p. 3.
22. Powell, p. 60.
23. "Killed By Their Comrades," Newsweek, 18 November 1991,
24. Army Acquisition Command Combat Identification Task Force,
25. Powell, p. 60.
27. Title V Report To Congress, p. M-7.
28. Ibid., p. M-10.
29. Schrader, p. 107.
30. "DOD Lists Friendly Fire Casualties," Janes Defence Weekly,
24 August 1991, p. 302.
31. Title V Report To Congress, p. M-6.
32. "Killed By Their Comrades," p. 45.
33. Army Acquisition Command Combat Identification Task Force, p. 5.
34. Powell, p. 60.
35. LtCol. George H. Harmeyer and Maj. John F. Antal, "The Problem of
Battlefield Fratricide," (Fort Irwin: Operations Group, National Training Center,
1991) p. 10.
36. "They Didn't Have to Die," Time Magazine, 26 August 1991, p. 20.
37. Powell, p. 61.
38. Army Acquisition Command Combat Identification Task Force, p. 3.
39. Jay F. Grandin, "Fire Support Coordination-Its Time for a Relook,"
Field Artillery, (Feb 92): 19-23.
1. "Army Still Withholding Names of Friendly Fire Dead." Washington
Post, 18 January 1992.
2. Capps, Maj. "Anti-Fratricide Measures." Marine Corps Lessons Learned
System, #30456-89874, 7 March 1991.
3. Combat Identification Program Interim Report. Commanding General,
Army Acquistion Command Combat Identification Task Force, 11 December
4. van Creveld, Martin. Command In War. Cambridge: Harvard University
5. "DOD Lists Friendly Fire Casualties." Jane's Defence Weekly, 24
6. "Friendly Fire." Air Force Times, 26 August 1991: 3.
7. Grandin, Jay, F. "Fire Support Coordination-Its Time For A Relook."
Field Artillery, February 92: 19-23.
8. Hackworth, David H. "Friendly Fire Casualties." Marine Corps Gazette,
76 (March 1992): 46-48.
9. Hackworth, David H. "Killed By Their Comrades." Newsweek, 18
November 1991: 45-46.
10. "How U.S. Troops Died During The Gulf War." The Detroit News,
17 August 1991.
11. Harmeyer, George H. and Antal, John F, "The Problem of Battlefield
Fratracide." Study by the Operations Group, National Training Center, Ft.
Irwin, August 1991.
12. Johnson, LtCol. "Close Air Support (CAS) Procedures." Marine Corps
Lessons Learned System, #52350-80174, 18 December 1991.
13. McAbee, LtCol. "Fratricide." Marine Corps Lessons Learned System,
#13779-30700, 8 February 1991.
14. "Military Probes Friendly Fire Incidents." News Release by Office of
Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), 13 August 1991.
15. Powell, Stewart M. "Friendly Fire." Air Force Magazine, December
16. Schmidt, LtCol. "Interoperability In Coalition Warfare." Marine Corps
Lessons Learned System, #14454-67200, 4 February 1991.
17. Schrader, Charles R. Amicicide-The Problem of Friendly Fire in Modern
War. Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command
and General Staff College, December 1982.
18. "Sullivan Backs New Joint Office to Push Friendly Fire Solutions."
Inside The Army, October 1991: 1.
19. "They Didn't Have To Die." Time Magazine, 26 August 1991: 20.
20. Tiger Team Anti-Fratracide Report. Saudi Arabia: I MEF Expeditionary
Force, 10 February 1991.
21. Taylor, Robert. Department of Defense, PDASD/Public Affairs. News
Briefing on Friendly Fire, Washington, DC, 13 August 1991.
22. Title V Report to Congress (Draft). Washington, DC: Joint Services,
13 January 1992: Appendix M
23. Truimph Without Victory. New York: U.S. News and World Report,
24. Van Riper, Paul K. "Observations During Operation Desert Storm."
Marine Corps Gazette, 15 (June 1991): 61.
25. Wiltse, Jeffrey S. "Training to Prevent Fratricide." Armor, (July-
August 1991): 46-47.
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