Fratricide: Can It Be Stopped?


CSC 1993


SUBJECT AREA - Warfighting






Title: Fratricide: Can it Be Stopped?


Author: LCDR William Ayers, III, United States Navy


Thesis: The military must identify the causes of Fratricide and seek to eliminate

them through changes to institutional practices and through developing new and

more sophisticated technology for identifying friend or foe.


Background: Fratricide is an age-old problem. Modem warfare is high paced,

mobile, and technologically advanced. There is an apparent increase in fratricide

because of these changes and the impact it makes on society demands that steps be

taken to determine the causes and seek solutions. The causes of fratricide are

multiple. The human element constitutes the largest cause and includes such

problems as the stress of combat, inadequate training, lack of experience and just.

plain negligence. Environment plays an unalterable role, complicating war through

darkness, weather and terrain. Finally, technology is becoming an increasing

problem. Today's sophisticated weapons can malfunction, be too lethal and their

speed and effective range reduces reaction time and decreases the ability to

distinguish between friend and foe. Solutions rest in improving man and improving

machine. Soldiers require education in fratricide awareness and prevention and

increased training under conditions as close to real combat as possible. They also

need improvement in command and control, specifically situational awareness and

fire discipline. Improvements in technology revolve around "smart" weapons and

electronic identification devices that either emit a friendly status or can determine

friend or foe.


Recommendations: It is essential that the Army's impressive advances in training,

education and the research and development of technology to counter fratricide

continue and be initiated by the other services, allies and coalition forces.



Title: Fratricide: Can It Be Stopped?






Thesis: The military must identify the causes of Fratricide and seek to eliminate

them through changes to institutional practices and through developing new and

more sophisticated technology for identifying friend or foe.




I. Fratricide

A. Definition

B. Background


II. Effects on Society

A. Civilian

1. Media Coverage

2. Attitude Towards Military

B. Military

l. Outcome of Conflict

2. Troops' Fighting Ability


III. Causes

A. Human Factor

1. Stress

2. Inadequate Training

3. Lack of Experience

B. Environment

C. Technology

I. "High-Tech"

2. Equipment Malfunction

3. Lethality


IV. Solutions

A. Institutional

I. Education

2. Training

3. Sound Doctrine

4. Command and Control

B. Technology

I. Visual Identification Devices

2. Electronic Identification Devices

3. Research and Development




Fratricide: Can It Be Stopped?


by LCDR William H. Ayers, United States Navy




In every conflict there are losses imposed by the enemy. Although tragic, it

is an accepted part of the process. What is difficult to accept are those losses

inflicted by one's own or allied forces. This is fratricide, sometimes referred to as

amicicide or friendly fire. It is defined by Webster's Ninth New Collegiate

Dictionary as "one who murders or kills his own brother or sister..." A more

appropriate "military" definition, developed by the 1991 General Officer Steering

Committee, defines fratricide as "... the employment of friendly weapons and

munitions with the intent to kill the enemy or destroy his equipment that results in

unforeseen and unintentional death or injury to friendly personnel."

Fratricide is not a new problem. It occurred in every American conflict, from

plaguing George Washington during the Revolutionary War, to the mortal

wounding of Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville.(8:29) It was documented in

both World War I and II, accounted for approximately 2% of those killed in action

(KIA) in the Korean War and 2.9% of KIA's in Vietnam. (l 1:39) Most recently

fratricide reared its ugly head during the United States participation in Desert

Storm where almost 25% of the casualties were from friendly fire.(3:46) Neither is

it limited to one particular culture. Amicicide occurred in ancient Greek and

Roman armies, made untimely appearances during Napoleon's conquests and is

documented in the highly professional Israeli forces.(8:29)

In the past, accurate figures for how many and how often friendly fire

casualties occurred were difficult to obtain. The incidents received little recognition

or did not get reported at all because the causes were undetermined, victims and

their survivors were protected, or there was fear of causing a public outcry.(8:31)

Desert storm changed all of that. Sensational news and media coverage broadcast

friendly fire incidents for the entire world to see. Equally important was that the

proportion and percentage of fratricide casualties was greater than that of any

United States conflict in recent history. (3:46) Even though these figures are biased

because the war was short, more thoroughly investigated and the total number of

casualties was small , the message it sends is clear.(I 1:40) Modem warfare is high

paced, mobile, and technologically advanced. With it comes an evident increase in

fratricide, which, spurred by instantaneous worldwide communications has affected

society as a whole and begs for action. It now becomes paramount that the military

unravel this age-old problem by examining the effects of fratricide on both the

civilian and military population; researching how the human element; the

environments and technology causes fratricide: and finally seeking to eliminate

these causes through changing the "institutional" (10:30) practices of the military

as well as developing new and more sophisticated technology for identification of

both friendly and enemy targets.

Regardless of the statistics for fratricide, even one incident is too many and its

impact is felt in both the civilian and military communities. The public does not

expect friendly fire casualties to occur ( especially in this age of computers and

high-tech equipment) and finds them hard to accept or understand when they do

happen. Lieutenant Colonel Charles R. Schrader (USA, Ret) explains public

reaction in the following-excerpt from "Friendly Fire: The Inevitable Price:"


Most soldiers understand that such incidents are an unfortunate but natural

part of warfare. The civilian populace is less likely to understand. The news

media have a tendency to blow friendly fire incidents out of proportion, and

an ill-informed public reacts with distrust, demands for retribution, and

remedies which are generally unhelpful. The families of victims of friendly

fire display excusable anguish and suspicion, which are often translated

into demands for investigations and explanations which cannot be provided

with any degree of speed or accuracy and thus often lead to unwarranted

charges of cover-up and malfeasance. (8:41)


From the military standpoint, as Lieutenant Colonel Shrader said, soldiers

accept fratricide as a part of battle. This was brought home in a conversation this

author had with the commander of a Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) company just

prior to G-day during Desert Storm. When asked how he and his men felt about a

recent episode where an LAV had been destroyed and people killed by friendly fire,

he responded by saying that it was their mission to be on the front lines. LAV's

were mixed up with the enemy, it was at night and hard to see. Nether he nor his

men held any ill will towards the attacker, it was "part of their job." It is also

conceivable that fratricide could cause the loss of a battle or even an entire war.

Using Stonewall Jackson's death as an example, some have said that his loss

unbalanced General Lee so much that it caused him to abandon the principles of

war at Gettysburg, to lose the battle, and possibly even to influence the outcome of

the war. On a smaller scale, the resulting confusion from such casualties could

cause a unit to reach a premature "culminating point" and delay a victory or give

the enemy a second chance. While this may not always be the case, there is little

doubt that friendly fire casualties have a definite influence on troops' fighting

capability. Psychologically, it causes loss of confidence, fear and hesitancy, which

may lead to lower morale and loss of effectiveness on the battlefield.(8:40)

Fratricide incidents generally fall into three major categories: the human

element, the environment, and technology. However, it is also possible to have any

combination of the three. The human element is probably the biggest reason for

fratricide and exists in many forms. The most commonly seen are combat stress,

inadequate training, lack of experience and just plain negligence.

"No other single factor produces as many instances of friendly fire as does the

stress of combat... from the nervous soldier who fires his rifle before properly

identifying his target to the commander who orders his tanks to turn the wrong way

in the confusion of an operation." (8:39) With the tremendous increase in military

"high-tech" equipment, another factor adds to the stress of combat. "Psychologists

call it the 'Glass Cockpit Syndrome' - referring to the ubiquitous computer screens.

It is a situation where the combination of a flood of technical information, faulty

communications among crew members and outside stress lead to major judgment

errors that can cause errors." (9) Such was the case when the crew of U.S.S.

Vincennes faced with multiple emergencies, failed to verity information received

and mistakenly shot down an Iranian civilian airliner.

Inadequate training and lack of experience leads to human error during

combat and results in fratricide. Colonel George Harmeyer and Major John Antal

in "Fire Discipline and Fratricide" state that "combat is a confusing, mad mess. Any

one who has not experienced the degree of fear and uncertainty that accompanies

combat cannot understand the true dimension of the problem of `friendly fire'."

(4:27) Clausewitz called it the "fog of war" and said that lack of training and

experience was its greatest contributor to what he called "friction." A recent army

study on fratricide seems to agree that human error may be the greatest cause:



The nervousness of green troops, a lack of control or fire discipline imposed

by calm and decisive leaders, the lack of adequate coordination of operations

by commanders and staff officers, and disorientation, confusion, and carelessness

of pilots, gunners, or crewmen were the predominant causes of most incidents.



An example where human error caused amicicide occurred when incorrect

powder charges were used during an artillery harassment and interdiction fire in

1967 Vietnam, causing the rounds to land in another U.S. fire base with resulting

casualties. The attacked fire base returned fire, killing and wounding several from

the original base.(8:35) Lack of experience played a large role in friendly fire


* Original quote from James A. Blackwell, Center for Strategic International Studies, reported in Times Union, Albany, NY., 21 July, 1991.


incidents during Desert Storm because the "100-hour" ground war did not allow

time for the troops to become combat hardened. (8:31)

The final aspect of the human factor has been classified as negligence. In a

recent article by Captain Robert Jones entitled, "Friendly Fire: Where Is the Weak

Link?" , he described two incidents that happened to him during Operation Desert

Storm. In the first incident an Air Force A-10 opened fire on a building only a

couple of hundred meters away from a unit accepting the surrender of an enemy

soldier. The pilot was apparently unaware that the building was in friendly territory

and a no-fire zone. (6:63). Fortunately there were no casualties. The second

incident also involved two A-I 0's who strafed his convoy, wounding a corporal and

a corpsman. The convoy was on the friendly side of the sand berm delineating the

fire support coordination line and the lead vehicle had been identified with a VS-I 7

panel. In both cases there was no visibility problems, no darkness, no ground

combat and no surface to air combat. As Captain Jones states; "This was negligent

friendly fire. Somebody screwed up." (6:63)

Throughout history the environment has plagued man during war. Darkness,

weather, and terrain virtually invite opportunities for fratricide. Stonewall Jackson

was shot because he was not recognized by his own troops when he returned from

reconnoitering in the dark. Poor visibility during air operations caused many

friendly fire incidents during World War II. Desert Storm was a prime example of

the effects of environment. The featureless terrain made it extremely easy to get

lost, end up out of one's sector and be targeted as the enemy. This was magnified

by the fact that modern warfare emphasizes night attacks. These factors, combined

with the heavy rainstorms, sandstorms, and smoke from the oil fires, (3:46) were

responsible for 11 of 13 fratricide incidents identified by the Army.(10:31)

Advances in technology are seen by many as the newest and deadliest cause

of friendly fire casualties:


Warfare has changed. No longer do opponents line up behind two clearly

definable neat lines and bang away at each other. Modern American

warfighting is now frontless and emphasizes night attacks with heavy doses

of firepower, fast maneuvering, and deep penetration.(3:46)


Indeed, the high speed at which some machinery and weapons operate reduces

reaction time and in some cases the effective range of the weapons is further than

the ability to identity the target friend or foe.(1 :39) Colonel Hackworth in

"Friendly Fire' Casualties" states that "[at great distances] tank gunners looking

through thermal sights and pilots flying at 200 miles per hour using precision

munitions can easily mistake friend for foe, especially if a friendly is in enemy

territory or somewhere he is not supposed to be. "(3:46-47) An example of

increased technology problems occurred in Desert Storm when one set of Abrams

tanks mistakenly attacked and destroyed another set of Abrams tanks and Bradley

fighting vehicles while using thermal sights during inclement weather.(8:37)

Adding to this complexity is that if one is fortunate and can identity a vehicle as an

enemy (such as Soviet equipment), that may not be good enough. In today's

worldwide market of arms sales, many nations may own Soviet equipment. During

Desert Storm some Arab allies operated the same kinds of Soviet equipment as the


Additional problems with increased technology are the potential for

equipment malfunction and the tremendous lethality of armament. Mechanical

difficulty with a bomb-release mechanism in World War II during Operation Cobra

air support caused the dropping of bombs on the 30th Infantry Division, resulting

in many deaths and casualties.(8:33) An example of equipment failure occurred

during Desert Storm when an Air Force A-10 missile fired at an enemy target,

malfunctioned, retargeted itself and destroyed a Marine LAV.(3 :47) The lethality

of modern ammunition presented special problems during Desert Storm. In several

instances; antitank rounds, fired at Iraqi vehicles, went entirely through them and

hit U. S. armored vehicles hundreds of meters behind them.(3:47)

The causes of fratricide are many and in the areas of weather and terrain

virtually unalterable. So what can be done to solve this problem? It has often been

said that admitting there is a problem is the first step to its solution. Such is the case

with fratricide. There was little research done in the past to solve identification

problems. Most of the military's time, effort and money have gone into developing

more sophisticated and more lethal weapons, thus creating a gap between the two.

Adding to this is the fact that since there have been long periods of time between

conflicts, identification problems become less of a priority.(3:47) Lessons learned

from Desert Storm brought fratricide to the surface, where it became a recognized

problem and now receives a higher priority in the military. Solutions being focused

on have been divided into two areas: institutional, to include education, training,

sound doctrine and command and control; and technological, to include developing

better equipment for the identification of friend or foe.(I0:30). Simplified, it means

improving man and improving machine.

What is being done to improve man? For a start, educating the soldier has

changed. The United States Army created the Combat Identification Task Force

(CIT) in May of 1991. It is a multiple service Task Force seeking to minimize

fratricide.(I0:31). Improvements made include such things as fratricide warnings in

training manuals (examples: U.S. Army Field Manual FM 71-2 The Tank and

Mechanized Task Force and a video tape entitled Fratricide Awareness and

Prevention that identifies problems and possible solutions and includes a section on

identifying friendly vehicle patterns through thermal sights).(1:63)(7:35-36) Not

only does educating the soldier help, but ensuring this doctrine is standardized from

service to service and understood by our allies and coalition forces will

undoubtedly lower the risk of fratricide. This will necessitate the revising of Joint

and Combined Warfare Doctrine to include fratricide identification and prevention

and the formation of liaison teams to coordinate with allied forces.(I 3:37)

Interwoven with education is training. This enables the soldier to put his

learned skills to work. It is also an area where great progress in fratricide

prevention has been made. In order to accomplish this two things must occur.

Military personnel must receive more "on the job" training than ever before and it

must come as close as possible to simulating actual combat conditions. Such

conditions are duplicated at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Chaffee,

Arkansas, and the National Training Center where friendly vehicles "appear" with

enemy vehicles during live fire exercises and vehicle marking systems and vehicle

recognition are stressed. These measures appear to have been successful. Fratricide

rates during subsequent training exercises decreased from 12% to 7% and from

15% to 10%.(7:36) The Army went a step further by actually purchasing foreign

equipment to use in training exercises to allow soldiers to see exactly how enemy

and friendly vehicles look when mixed together on the battlefield.(I 1:41)

As more and more military personnel receive this training, friendly fire

incidents should decrease even further. These changes in training should translate

into progress on the battlefield. For example, during Desert Storm the 2nd Armored

Tank force contacted and destroyed two Iraqi T-55 tanks. Two other vehicles were

seen near the burning tanks and an Abrams tank gunner was given the order to fire.

Because the gunner had attended a master gunner's course, he identified the thermal

signature as that of a Bradley fighting vehicle. He informed his commander who

retracted the order to fire. The Sergeant's advanced education and quick reaction

saved the lives of two scout vehicles that were lost and forward of their zone. (7:34)

With increased potential, however, there comes added risk. Placing too much

emphasis on fratricide awareness may lead to hesitation on the battlefield, giving

the enemy the advantage of the first shot.(7:36) This problem was also discussed by

a senior officer review group and CIT representatives in October 1991 who gave

the following warning: "...We might reduce the effectiveness of our combat units

to such an extent that we'd take greater losses from enemy fire than we would

prevent in avoiding fratricide."(l0:32) Reducing this loss of effectiveness involves

developing good leadership abilities in both commissioned and noncommissioned

officers. The Army, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is revising

leadership development courses and teaching risk-assessment methodology to

create a "balance" between the two ends of the scale.(I 0:33)

A final institutional improvement is in the field of command and control. This

field is broken down into two parts: situational awareness and fire control

discipline. Situational awareness is knowing where one is in relationship to both

friendly and enemy forces and keeping one's command informed of such

relationships. It is a key factor in reducing friendly fire casualties because given the

range and lethality of modern weapons, real time knowledge of both the enemy and

friendly positions keeps one from targeting the wrong forces and therefore

decreases amicicide opportunities.(I :62-63) Ways of improving situational

awareness include increased education and training in land navigation,

standardization of communications equipment and stressing the importance of

keeping the command constantly informed of location and movement. This

facilitates real time plotting of friendly forces. (7:36) This is a must in joint and

combined operations where standardized equipment and doctrine are not yet the

norm. Progress was made during Desert Storm when mobile training teams were

dispatched by the Army to each coalition command. It was their job to educate the

allied commanders and their troops in situational awareness.(I 0:32)

Fire control discipline is another aspect of combat where improvements are

possible. Fire control is managing the targeting and destruction of the enemy by

ground-to-ground, ground-to-air, air-to-ground, and air-to-air weapons systems. In

the past, the majority of friendly fire incidents were from artillery. During World

War I up to 75,000 friendly casualties came from artillery fire. With the increased

use of artillery and air power in World War II , the Korean War and Vietnam, the

percentages went up.(4:26) Again, with the increased range and lethality of today's

weapons systems, ensuring good fire control discipline is vital in controlling


Planning is a good place to start. Knowing the scheme of maneuver and

identifying decision points are mandatory for a commander to maintain control. He

must also either designate or rename aware of engagement areas and no-fire zones.

In addition, methods of starting and stopping fires should be agreed upon before

operations begin. Paramount with good planning is commander's intent. This is the

ability of the commander to make his intentions understood from his staff all the

way down to the soldier operating the weapons system. If every one in the unit

knows what to do, when to do it and rehearses it, the plan will go well and friendly