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Chapter 1


"Fratricide is the employment of friendly weapons and munitions with the intent to kill the enemy or destroy his equipment or facilities, which results in unforeseen and unintentional death or injury to friendly personnel." --TRADOC Fratricide Action Plan

The goal of this newsletter is to help trainers develop skills and identify techniques which can reduce the fratricide potential of circumstances such as those faced by U.S. forces in recent combat operations. Thus, this newsletter focuses on lessons available from previous historical and Combat Training Center (CTC) studies as well as on observations from the Operations JUST CAUSE and DESERT STORM After Action Reports (AARs). It is also designed to compliment CALL handbook No. 92-3, Apr 92, Fratricide Risk Assessment for Company Leadership.

Fratricide is a grim fact in combat operations. Such incidents cover a wide spectrum of conditions, but, historically, are most likely to occur in the early stages of combat, during reduced visibility or along shared unit boundaries. In previous 20th century conflicts, supporting fires (air and artillery) accounted for almost 75 percent of fratricide incidents and an even greater proportion of friendly fire casualties (see Appendix D, 20th Century Fratricide Statistics). However, with current direct fire technology advances, this proportion may be changing for modernized armored forces in high intensity scenarios.

Recent combat operations show that the nature of future fratricide risk may be dependant upon the specific theater and enemy encountered. As examples, Operation JUST CAUSE and Operation DESERT STORM are at opposite ends of the scale in several repects. Other factors may include the degree to which maneuver success is reliant upon fire support and the proportion of offensive to defensive missions. Theater characteristics lead to quite different command and control challenges and will vary with any given conflict.

Very ShortEngagement RangesBeyond ID Range
Urban and JungleUrbanization and TerrainNonurban and Desert
U.S. JointJoint and Allied CooperationCoalition
MinimalPreparation and AcclimationExtensive
DetailedEnemy SituationVariable (at front)
Long TermLocal Friendly PresenceNone
Small Unit ActionArray of ForcesOperational Maneuver
Low DensityDensity of ForcesHigh Density


During Operation JUST CAUSE, the vast majority of reported incidents involved the collateral effects of friendly weapons in urban and restricted terrain. Soldiers didn't know the penetration, ricochet, and blast consequences of their own weapons. Ricochets, inexact ground locations, and incomplete identification by aircraft were factors in the two known air-to-ground incidents. In each case, ground elements cleared fire after either receiving incorrect information or moving after processing the call for fire.


During Operation DESERT STORM, direct fire vehicular engagements caused 12 of the 15 Army friendly fire incidents. Of these 12, all but one occurred at night. The majority (up to 10 incidents) appear to have occurred within 1,500 meters, but conditions almost universally included significant obscuration from dust, smoke, rain, and fog. Four incidents occurred across task force boundaries. Other contributing factors characteristic of DESERT STORM (for more on contributing factors, see discussion in Chapter 2 and Appendix A) include the intense, continuous pace of operations, vast distances traveled over featureless terrain, and the high number of limited visibility, shoot-on-the-move engagements. Although coalition thermal sights greatly overmatched the Iraqi capability, many misidentification problems still arose. On the unrestricted desert battlefield, direct fire lethality far outstripped the gunner's ability to achieve positive target identification. Hence, he based his decision to fire largely upon his knowledge of where he and other friendlies were, or should have been, with respect to a given target. This situational awareness, dependant upon planning and control measures, became key to understanding DESERT STORM fratricide incidents. There were also two air-ground incidents, and one indirect fire incident where a premature burst of artillery DPICM killed a soldier.

The two fratricidal air-ground engagements were primarily due to the same kind of confusion about relative positions, compounded by misidentification. Aircraft drifting outside their division boundaries resulted in at least one corps--wide order to ground all Army aircraft and regain control during the ground war. Other problems included widespread disregard for air defense control measures and guidance. Only great professional restraint on the part of air defenders prevented any tragic engagements of coalition aircraft. With a significant enemy air presence in the future, this might not hold true.

The primary role of supporting fires in Operation DESERT STORM was to shape the battlefield in the days prior to G-Day and to strike withdrawing targets during the ground war. Effective long-range direct fire engagements and the propensity for the enemy to retreat kept direct support artillery fires well away from units in contact. Other than the generation of dud submunitions, the risk of artillery fratricide was abnormally low.

Although no casualties resulted, the risk of fratricide in rear areas became evident during Operation DESERT STORM. We saw that the combat support and combat service support elements contacted and bypassed EPWs, displaced civilians, and even enemy elements still capable of fighting. Against an enemy more willing to fight in our rear area, this could cause major fire control and coordination problems.

As with other 20th century conflicts, DESERT STORM fratricide casualties have often been expressed as a fraction of all friendly casualties (107 friendly fire casualties of 615 total WIA and KIA, or 17 percent). Although these two numbers are dramatically and readily available, they are not necessarily the best historical means to record fratricide. Our fire control failures are more appropriately expressed as a percentage of total effective friendly engagements (the total number of enemy and friendly casualties we inflicted). For example, we tragically killed 35 and wounded 72 American service members in the legitimate effort to inflict conservatively 20,000 casualties upon the enemy. Although this perspective by no means lessens our obligation to reduce these incidents, our actual rate of fratricide during DESERT STORM was probably well under 1 percent. In future conflicts, the best predicator of fratricide risk may be a function of the projected number of engagements and not a function of our projected casualties.


The Army's CTCs routinely track fratricidal engagements. A July 1990 study at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) showed that almost 7 percent of all friendly fire casualties in the previous year resulted from friendly fire. Characteristically, these occurred in close combat situations, with 81 percent due to indirect fire and only 19 percent due to direct fire. This fire support hazard resulted from many dismounted elements moving separately in limited visibility and the employment of danger-close missions in support of light maneuver. These fires are often unobserved and cleared by company commanders, battalion S3s, and battalion or company FSOs. However, unit performance at the JRTC since this 1990 study indicates that the proportion of indirect fire fratricide is decreasing. Just since Operation DESERT STORM, fratricide overall is down approximately 40 percent, with a dramatic reduction in indirect friendly fire (now almost equal to direct fire fratricide). Observers attribute this trend to the improved exercise of positive clearance of fires by ground commanders.

The Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) and the Army Research Institute (ARI) conducted detailed studies of direct fire computer records from 1986-1990 at the highly instrumented National Training Center (NTC). Results indicated that under some conditions as many as 10.9 percent of attempted engagements were fratricidal. Generally, just over one half of these engagements (52 percent) resulted in MILES hits/kills (versus near misses) and hence casualties (see Appendix E for breakout and rank order by mission). Based upon our DESERT STORM experience, this probably under-represents the lethality of direct fire service ammunition. Keep in mind the computer profile only represents a fraction of actual engagements and the specific fratricide percentages are not necessarily representative of all engagements. We can, however, draw several conclusions. First, likelihood of fratricide is lower in defense operations, which becomes useful information in operational risk assessment. Deliberate attacks involve the highest fratricide risk for offensive missions. Although characterized by thorough preparation and detailed intelligence, the massing of units and the high density of weapons systems in a deliberate attack create the greatest likelihood of fratricide. Less structured offensive operations (hasty attack and movement to contact) generally make contact with the smallest feasible element and employ simple, one axis formations to enhance command and control. Finally, like the majority of all direct fires, most friendly fire engagements occur within 1500 meters. However, although the volume of engagements beyond 2000 meters drops, the proportion that are fratricidal increases. This reflects the problem of long range combat identification.

Ultimately in this study, the computer registered about 5 percent of recorded friendly direct fire MILES hits and kills at the NTC as fratricidal(see Appendix E for breakdown by mission). Although computer recorded hits are only a fraction of total engagements, comparison of rates by mission is impossible. Friendly fire rates in the offense exceed those in the defense by 3:1; however, the higher volume of engagements in the defense produces almost as many friendly casualties as in the offense (e.g., 5 percent of 300 hits in the defense equals 15 percent of 100 hits for offense). Thus, the average self-inflicted toll at the NTC per task force mission may be as high as two to three combat vehicles. These statistics apply equally to modernized and nonmodernized forces.

An earlier study (1986) conducted by the Rand Corporation involved 83 direct fire battles and 15 task forces. It demonstrated that good situational awareness at the lowest level is the key to preventing the majority of fratricide given the lack of an effective IFF system. This study reported several conclusions. First, most direct fire fratricides are isolated incidents involving one engagement. Of the relatively few incidents involving multiple engagements, 75 percent occur in darkness. Second, 50 percent of shooting vehicles could have avoided fratricide if they had only known the location of their sister units. Another 33 percent would have needed to know the location of individual and isolated friendly vehicles not in contact with the enemy. The remaining 16 percent would have required an IFF device to distinguish friendly vehicles intermixed with the enemy.

The Rand Study also investigated indirect fire and found fratricidal missions in 51 of 116 battles reviewed. On average, task forces fired 26.7 missions per battle (excluding smoke and illumination) with 33 percent achieving at least some suppression of forces on the ground. About one tenth of these "effective" missions or 3.6 percent of total missions were fratricidal. Of interest, there was only a small deviation between kinds of operations (offense vs. defense) and between units with and without TACFIRE. However, the difference between training units was significant. The best task forces had fratricidal fire missions in only 25 percent of their battles, while some had friendly indirect fire in every battle. Unfortunately, these figures do not readily translate to casualty estimates for comparison with direct fire casualties.

The Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) at Hohenfels reports similar unit problems with fratricide. After Action Reports often link poor quality rehearsals and lack of crosstalk to command and control breakdowns causing fratricide. Unlike the desert, short direct fire engagement windows and decision times contribute to vehicle identification problems. Friendly indirect fire results from not clearing target areas and violating danger close. Additionally, the continuity of friendly unit operations in the maneuver area reveals many problems with casualties from friendly minefields. These stem from failure to coordinate and disseminate the obstacle plan and failure to accurately report obstacle locations back up the chain.

The simulation which supports the Battle Command Training Program (BCTP) does not have sufficient resolution to game direct fire fratricide, but the simulation does portray friendly fire casualties from artillery, Army aviation, air support and minefields. Typically, forces in the security zone are not protected by restrictive Fire Support Coordination Measures (FSCMs) and become engaged by USAF or indirect fires. Similarly, friendly maneuver units are engaged after crossing a permissive FSCM that has not been updated, such as a Fire Support Coordination Line (FSCL). As with the CMTC, units moving through another's area of operations often experience minefield fratricide. Observers find that fratricide is minimized when units properly monitor, mark, and report barriers, adhere to obstacle restrictive measures, and conduct detailed movement coordination, to include route reconnaissance.

Table of Contents
Vignette: Operation DESERT STORM: Actions on Day G+3
Vignette: Operation URGENT FURY: Air Support

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