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Friendly Fire: Reducing The Risk Of Future

Friendly Fire: Reducing The Risk Of Future

Battlefield Tragedies

 

CSC 1992

 

SUBJECT AREA Warfighting

 

 

91 - 92

 

Friendly Fire: Reducing the Risk of Future Battlefield Tragedies

 

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

 

Title: Friendly Fire: Reducing the Risk of Future

Battlefield Tragedies

 

Author: Lieutenant Commander Danny A. Shockley, United

States Navy

 

Thesis: Developing a means to reduce the likelihood of

firing on friendly forces for future conflicts is a problem

worthy of our full attention; the solution may be found by

improvements in three areas: training, technology, and

education.

 

Background: Throughout history, probably no major conflict

has escaped the tragedy known as friendly fire. Countless

incidents have been documented. First, and of greatest

significance, the problem deserves our attention because it

is such a tragic event. But it is also important because

friendly fire incidents contribute to destroying our

national will and to disrupting our operational

effectiveness on the battlefield. The causes of friendly

fire may be categorized as either human or technological.

The obvious solutions are to conduct better training and to

obtain new technology, but Congress and military leaders

have given a low priority to the friendly fire problem in

the past. This is due to the public's lack of information

regarding the causes of the problem and to the military

leaders' attitude that friendly fire is just a battlefield

fact of life.

 

Recommendation: Realistic training and new technology will

help to reduce the risk of future friendly fire. The key to

obtaining the support to buy new technology and better

training equipment is through the education of both the

public and the military leaders. The combination of an

educated general public and an enlightened military

leadership should provide the support, as well as the

impetus, to pursue new technology and to achieve effective

training programs. This will help to reduce the risk of

future battlefield tragedies.

 

 

Friendly Fire: Reducing the Risk of

Future Battlefield Tragedies

 

 

Outline

 

 

Thesis: Developing a means to reduce the likelihood of

firing on friendly forces for future conflicts is a problem

worthy of our full attention; the solution may be found by

improvements in three areas: training, technology, and

education.

 

I.                U. S. friendly fire history

 

A. Civil War example

B. World War I example

C. World War II example

D. Korean War example

E. Vietnam War example

F. Persian Gulf War example

 

II.            Importance of solving friendly fire

 

A. Tragic loss of life

B. Adverse affect to national will

C. Adverse affect to combat effectiveness

 

III.        Reasons for friendly fire

 

A. Human

B. Technology

 

IV.            Solutions to reduce friendly fire

 

A. Improve training

B. Improve technology

C.                Educate participants

 

1. Inform the public

2. Enlighten the military leaders

 

 

FRIENDLY FIRE: REDUCING THE RISK OF

FUTURE BATTLEFIELD TRAGEDIES

 

The death of a soldier during battle is a tragedy.

 

However, the anguish is even greater and more far-reaching

 

when the soldier is mistakenly killed by his comrades.

 

Throughout history, probably no major conflict has escaped

 

this grave occurrence known as friendly fire. Countless

 

incidents have been documented

 

 

In 1863, General "Stonewall" Jackson completed one of

 

history's greatest marches around the flank of the Union

 

troops at Chancellorsville. Jackson went scouting, as he

 

often did, forward of his battle line at twilight. After

 

determining the location of the Yankee's defensive line, he

 

turned and hurried back to order an attack that might seal

 

General Hooker's doom. Suddenly, several shots were fired

 

from the Confederate lines. Jackson's mount,

 

uncharacteristically, broke into a panic. A kneeling line

 

from the 18th North Carolina opened up with their `smooth

 

bore Springfield muskets. Jackson was fatally wounded by

 

three Confederate musket balls. (2: 339-347)

 

 

The moss prevalent occurrences of friendly fire during

 

World War I were from artillery fire. A combination of poor

 

communications, poor survey and fire control, and the sheer

 

volume of artillery (called for by tactical doctrine of the

 

day) resulted in what was described as an "outright massacre

 

of friendly infantry by its own artillery. " (9: 2)

 

 

Late July 1944 -- Operation COBRA was launched in

 

France, with air support provided by the Eighth U. S. Air

 

Force. In spite of General Bradley's desire for the bombing

 

runs to be made parallel to the front lines, the Eighth Air

 

Force insisted the approaches be made at right angles to the

 

target area to minimize exposure to German anti-air

 

defenses. Seventy-five U. S. heavy and medium bombers

 

accidentally dropped hundreds of bombs on U. S. infantry and

 

mechanized units at positions up to seven miles north of the

 

target area. The result was 111 killed and 490 wounded.

 

(1: 228-236)

 

 

Before dawn on 17 April 1953, King Company and Love

 

Company attacked Pork Chop hill simultaneously from two

 

different directions. Just as King Company reached the top

 

of the hill, they came under an intense machine-gun fire

 

opened up by two soldiers from Love Company. King Company

 

quickly realized that the fire was coming from U. S.

 

soldiers but all attempts to signal the Love Company

 

soldiers failed. The machine-gun fire was only silenced by

 

the death of the Love Company soldiers. (9: 97)

 

 

On February 17, 1970, Charlie Company took a night

 

defensive position on a wooded hilltop in Vietnam. Shortly

 

after midnight, artillery fired a high explosive round over

 

Charlie Company's position in order to hit an intended

 

target area. The fire direction center failed to calculate

 

correctly for the tree heights of Charlie Company's hill.

 

The high explosive round hit a tree, killing 2 members of

 

Charlie Company. (3: 351-362)

 

 

On January 29, 1991, Iraqi armored units crossed the

 

Saudi Arabian border and engaged U. S. forces. A section of

 

U. S. Air Force A-10s checked-in and destroyed two Iraqi

 

armored units. A second section of A-10s checked-in and

 

released missiles after some initial difficulty in acquiring

 

the target. The AGM-65 Maverick missile suffered a

 

malfunction and struck a Marine LAV-25. Seven marines died.

 

(8: 6) (10: 4)

 

 

Tragically, a ccmmon thread through the history of war

 

is friendly fire. Developing a means to reduce the

 

likelihood of firing on friendly forces for future conflicts

 

is a problem worthy of our full attention. As retired U. S.

 

Army Colonel D. H Hackworth stated in a recent Marine Corps

 

Gazette article, "It's the duty of those who will never

 

forget the loss of a Soldier or Marine killed by their own

 

fire to ensure that it (receives the closest attentions.

 

(5: 48)

 

 

Reducing friendly fire is important for several

 

reasons. The most obvious reason is that friendly fire

 

represents a tragic loss of life. Sergeant Michael Mullen

 

died in his sleep from friendly artillery fire on a hill in

 

Vietnam in the early morning hours on February 18, 1970.

 

Understandably, Sergeant Mullen's parents were devastated by

 

the loss of their son, But when Michael's mother, Peg

 

Mullen, was told her son's death was the result of friendly

 

fire she was outraged. Peg Mullen glared at the sergeant

 

delivering the news and beat her fists on a the back of a

 

chair in frustration exclaiming, "Not the enemy! Goddamn

 

you! You couldn't even give him the . . . the decency of

 

being killed by the enemy!" (3: 51-52) The friendly fire

 

deaths of the Persian Gulf war are even more anguishing

 

because they represent such a large part of the total U. S.

 

combat deaths. In theory, the intensity of fire power that

 

caused the friendly fire deaths also saved hundreds of other

 

lives by bringing the ground war to a quick end. However,

 

this theory is difficult for the American public to accept.

 

(7: 23)

 

 

Preserving the national will is another reason to

 

reduce the risk of friendly fire for future conflicts. The

 

frustration exhibited by Mrs. Peg Mullen is a typical

 

reaction to this unexpected event. And it is truly

 

unexpected. When loved ones go to war, people prepare

 

themselves for a potential loss, and if notified their loved

 

one has died, generally expect to hear how he/she died while

 

fighting the enemy in a courageous and valorous action --

 

the way deaths are depicted in World War II movies. It is

 

as if such an action justifies the death. But when

 

presented with the news that their loss was caused by

 

friendly fire, the death takes on an even more negative

 

connotation, almost shameful or meaningless, and as Peg

 

Mullen stated, denies a soldier the dignity of being killed

 

by the enemy. Friendly fire fuels adverse public opinion on

 

the home front, which may in turn affect one of the most

 

vulnerable centers of gravity of the United States -- the

 

national will. Minimizing friendly fire incidents should

 

help to keep this center of gravity intact.

 

 

A third reason to reduce friendly fire is to prevent

 

the degradation of operational effectiveness on the

 

battlefield. Friendly fire is not only devastating to

 

family and loved ones, but it also touches combat troops

 

When asked about the friendly fire casualties of the Persian

 

Gulf War, former Commandant of the Marine Corps and recently

 

retired General A. M. Gray said, "It breaks your heart when

 

it happens." Likewise, the leaders on the battlefield are

 

similarly affected by friendly fire casualties. (5: 46-48)

 

These casualties may deal a crushing blow to the morale of

 

the affected unit, and other units in the theater of

 

operations. The tainted battlefield hinders the close and

 

continuous coordination that is essential to successful air-

 

land operations. The result is a disruption to operational

 

tempo and effectiveness.

 

 

Friendly fire is a perplexing problem. Each friendly

 

fire incident contains a unique bet of circumstances that

 

are difficult to model or simulate. One way to approach the

 

problem is to examine the two factors which contribute most

 

to the continued existence of friendly fire.

 

 

The first factor to consider is the human element,

 

which includes traits such as inexperience, fear, stress,

 

and carelessness. These human traits, combined with a

 

noisy, smoky, dark, and rainy battlefield create the often

 

mentioned, but not fully understood, "fog of war" situation.

 

Colonel Hackworth articulates the battlefield calamities

 

resulting from the "fog of war" in his Marine Corps Gazette

 

article:

 

 

Accidents occur on the modern battlefield because

terrified human beings are thrust into total chaos

on a jet-driven rollercoaster. The earth is

rocked by exploding shells, bullets cut through

the smoke-filled air like razor winged-tipped

bees, and people scream amidst the insanity of the

noise while killing and being killed. Frequently,

identification of friend and foe is limited by

poor battlefield visibility, by both sides wearing

the same green and camouflage uniforms, or by

everyone hunkering down to present the smallest

target to get out of harm's way. No one is

rational under these uncertain conditions, where

adrenalin is pumping at an explosive level.

Survival, man's basic instinct, is at stake. Life

and death decisions must be made in a split

second. Like in the gunfights of high noon, the

slow gun dies. The quick and fast live. Fear,

nervousness, excitement, and exhaustion numb the

mind and cause miscommunication and

misunderstandings. These circumstances are a

recipe for error. (5: 46)

 

 

It is the human element that causes many people, especially

 

military leaders, to shrug their shoulders and to accept

 

friendly fire casualties as a fait accompli -- just a

 

battlefield fact of life. (4: 45) However, the human

 

element was a contributing factor in at least 11 of the 35

 

U.S. friendly fire deaths during the Persian Gulf War and

 

may have had some influence in all of the deaths. (10: 3-4)

 

 

A second contributing factor is improved technology.

 

Modern technology enables large, complex and fast-moving

 

formations to fight in rain, darkness or low visibility and

 

engage targets from long distances with accurate and lethal

 

results. This technological advance contributes to quick

 

and decisive victories. The dilemma is that these new

 

capabilities have pushed us into a new kind of warfare from

 

that traditionally considered, making it more difficult to

 

distinguish friendly units from enemy units and making it

 

more likely that the result will be fatal. Again, from

 

Colonel Hackworth's article, the following is an excellent

 

account of this dilemma:

 

 

Warfare has changed. No longer do opponents line

up behind two clearly definable neat lines and

bang away at each other. Modern American war-

fighting is now frontless and emphasizes night

attacks with heavy doses of firepower, fast

maneuvering, and deep penetration. No longer do

units slam against each other until one side

gives, as they did in World War II. The objective

is to go for the jugular, to grasp quick victory

and thus minimize friendly casualties. This is

done by high-speed shock action that quickly

slices through enemy forward defenses into his

soft belly, and cutting up his command and

control, logistics, and artillery. These highly

fluid and fast-moving operations require detailed

coordination as friend and foe are tightly

intermingled. (5: 46)

 

 

Lieutenant General Charles A. Horner says that the

 

consequences of accidental attack on friendly forces is more

 

serious than ever, "we're not just talking about a few

 

pieces of shrapnel... with the lethality of air (power) now,

 

a hit on a friendly vehicle is a disaster. " (6: 24)

 

Advanced technology was a contributing factor in 24 of the

 

35 U. S. friendly fire deaths during the Persian Gulf War.

 

 

The solution to reducing future friendly fire incidents

 

may be achieved by improvements in three areas: training,

 

technology, and education. The first two areas, training

 

and technology, are obvious solutions. Training will entail

 

the preparation of soldiers in a simulated but realistic

 

battlefield environment in order to reduce the human error

 

factor. Technology will embrace new developments that

 

should help to reduce the risk of friendly fire occurrences

 

by closing the gap between fire power capabilities and the

 

ability of command and control systems to coordinate the

 

battlefield. The final area, education, is the foundation

 

to effectively implementing the required initiatives in the

 

areas of training and technology. It will seek to motivate

 

the general public, to change the fait accompli mentality of

 

military leadership, and to gain support for programs

 

designed to reduce future occurrences of friendly fire.

 

 

Training specifically tailored to correcting human

 

failings such as inexperience, fear, stress, and

 

carelessness is required. During the Vietnam War, the

 

failure of forward observers to correctly plot their own

 

position and correctly shift supporting artillery fires was

 

a major cause of friendly fire incidents. The errors were

 

attributed to individuals having to perform under severe

 

combat stress. (9: 16-24) Therefore, in order to be truly

 

effective, the training should be as realistic as possible,

 

using simulated battlefield surroundings. Hitting a target

 

on a firing range in a controlled environment is one thing;

 

hitting a target, the right target, in the midst of smoke,

 

explosions, and darkness is something quite different.

 

 

As previously stated, modern technology enables large,

 

complex and fast-moving formations to seek quick and

 

decisive victories in low visibility with accurate and

 

lethal firepower. This technological advance contributes to

 

quick and decisive victories. The dilemma is that new

 

capabilities make it more difficult to distinguish friendly

 

units from enemy units and more likely that a friendly

 

firing will be fatal. Simply put, we have allowed the

 

capabilities of our weapons to outrun our capacity to

 

control and coordinate them. Or, in economic terms, weapon

 

system development has reached the point of diminishing

 

returns, at least until technology provides new systems

 

designed to reduce the risk of friendly fires.

 

 

The greatest gains -- and perhaps the area with

the greatest potential for future technological

development -- is in command and control. These

systems decrease fratricide by controlling the

problems associated with command and control and

misidentification of friendly forces as enemy.

(11: 48)

 

These new systems could possibly map the location of all

 

friendly forces in the theater of operations (perhaps by

 

utilizing the Global Positioning System) and disseminate the

 

information to everyone involved in real time, enhancing

 

command and control capabilities in order to better

 

coordinate the battle. Research and development should

 

focus on new ways of increasing combat effectiveness. This

 

can be achieved by shifting technological emphasis away from

 

improving weapon systems capabilities and directing emphasis

 

towards reducing the likelihood of friendly fire.

 

Finally, we must consider the peacetime level of

 

interest in correcting the problem. Research and

 

development programs directed towards reducing friendly fire

 

occurrences have never received a high budget priority, and,

 

as a result, research into this approach has only skimmed

 

the surface for possible solutions. In addition, the Army

 

document describing future combat situation requirements,

 

the Battle Development Plan, fails to even address the

 

problem of friendly fire. (4: 46) Why is it that

 

searching for solutions to such an emotional topic is not

 

given a higher priority by our Congress and military

 

leaders? Two reasons for this reluctance come to mind.

 

First, the general public, for which Congress works, is

 

provided little or no facts regarding the causes of friendly

 

fire. Second, the prevailing attitude among some military

 

leaders that friendly fire is a battlefield fact of life.

 

Key to alleviating these two conditions is the education of

 

the general public and military leaders An internal and

 

external public relations job is needed.

 

 

The public knows little about the causes of friendly

 

fire. Only the results -- the deaths -- are publicized.

 

The military exacerbates the situation by deceiving the

 

public, giving the appearance of a cover-up. A recent Army

 

Times editorial describes this situation:

 

 

Families were told soldiers died as a result of

hostile fire, only to find out months later --

sometimes from other soldiers, sometimes through

published reports -- that the cause of death

actually was friendly fire. Such lies are

inexcusable. (7: 23)

 

Openness and candidness are required. Accurate information

 

should be provided a- boon as possible and should describe

 

the causes of the friendly fire occurrences. In addition,

 

the battlefield conditions -- the human factor and the

 

technological gap -- should be publicized. Once the reasons

 

for friendly fire occurrences are understood, the public

 

will be more inclined to support the military rather than

 

hold them in contempt for face-saving cover-up attempts.

 

The public will then rally Congressional support behind

 

initiatives aimed at reducing future friendly fire

 

occurrences. Perhaps then proposals for more realistic

 

simulation training and new research and development

 

endeavors will receive desirable levels of funding.

 

 

Military leaders are the victims of too much

 

information, or maybe are just too close to the problem.

 

While keenly aware of the conditions and causes of friendly

 

fire, their overriding attitude is that friendly fire is

 

part-and-parcel to war. It is not that they fail to take

 

the problem seriously or do not take every measure on the

 

battlefield to prevent this tragic event. But there is a

 

mentality, off the battlefield, that is so pervasive that it

 

prevents the acceptance of new training initiatives to

 

reduce friendly fire. These military leaders may go through

 

the motions but in their hearts they are not convinced the

 

new measures will make a difference. The fait accompli

 

attitude perpetuates itself as it is passed along from

 

seasoned veterans to new recruits. A simple change in

 

attitude may go a long way toward reducing friendly fire in

 

future conflicts.

 

 

Friendly fire is a tragedy that can devastate the

 

operational effectiveness on the battlefield and destroy the

 

national will on the home front. The combination of an

 

educated general public and an enlightened military

 

leadership should provide the support, as well as the

 

impetus, to pursue new technology and to achieve effective

 

training programs. This will reduce the risk of these

 

battlefield tragedies for the future.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

1. Blumenson, Martin. Breakout and Pursuit. U. S. Army

in World War II,vol. 3, pt 5. Washington D.C.:

Office of the Chief of Military History,

Department of the Army, 1961.

 

2. Bowers, John. Stonewall Jackson: Portrait of a

Soldier. New York: William Morrow and Company,

Inc. ,1989.

 

3. Bryan, Courtlandt Dixon Barnes. Friendly Fire. New

York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1976.

 

4. Hackworth, David H. "Killed by their Comrades."

Newsweek, November 18, 1991, 45-46.

 

5. Hackworth, David H., Colonel, U. S. Army (Retired).

"Friendly Fire Casualties." Marine Corps Gazette,

March 1992, 46-48.

 

6. "Horner Underscores Tragedy of Friendly Fire. Air

Force Times, June 3, 1991, p. 24.

 

7. "Inexcusable Lies. " Army Times, November 25, 1991, p.

23.

 

8. "Investigators Detail Fatal Errors in Gulf War."

Albany Times Union, July 21, 1991, p. 6.

 

9. Shrader, Charles R., Lieutenant Colonel, U. S. Army.

Amicicide: The Problem of Friendly Fire in Modern

War. Fort Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute,

U.S. Army Command And General Staff College,

Research Survey number 1, 1982.

 

10. U.S. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense

(Public Affairs). News Release number 504-91,

"Military Probes Friendly Fire Incidents," August

13, 1991.

 

11. Wiltse, Jeffrey S. "Training to Prevent Fratricide."

Armor. July - August 1991, 46-48.

 



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