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Combat Identification

Historically, friendly fire incidents have accounted for about 15 percent of all casualties on the battlefield. Operation Desert Storm in 1991 was no exception and fratricide rates showed no improvement during the 2001 Division Capstone Exercise, a test of Army digitization. The Future Force will be equally vulnerable unless a reliable combat identification system is fielded.

On April 30, 1863, Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia contested the Union Army of the Potomac's advance across the Rappahannock River near Chancellorsville, VA. The Civil War had raged two years and the outcome was far from certain. The Union had more men, weapons, supplies. Yet charismatic Confederate generals drubbed the Union regularly; they seemed bolder, smarter, luckier -- more masterful. But then a friendly-fire incident occurred that cut the Rebel string and may have changed the course of the war. Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and his aides scouted ahead for new advantages. As they returned, a Confederate unit mistook them for Union cavalry and opened fire, wounding Jackson. He was evacuated from the battlefield and his left arm was amputated. Pneumonia set in and he died May 8, 1863.

Friendly fire, or fratricide, incidents killed or injured about 17 percent of the American casualties during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Following the war in the gulf, U.S. officials vowed to lessen the number of friendly fire incidents in any future conflicts.

The "100 hour" Desert Storm ground campaign illustrated the ferocity and high tempo of modern warfare. For several days, almost one million Coalition combatants and over ten thousand armored vehicles engaged in intense and sustained combat operations around the clock, often in rainy weather. Unlike previous conflicts where the front lines remained relatively fixed, Operation Desert Storm was characterized by a dynamic, often confused battlefield where individual combat vehicle crews and units, caught up in the rapid advance punctuated by pitched skirmishes and battles, sometimes lost their "situational awareness" of where they were and where the enemy and friendly forces were.

Tragically, "fog-of-war" situations caused by the rapid advance of American forces, coupled with the use of long-range, highly lethal weapons, led to a number of friendly-fire incidents in which US combat vehicles, usually M1A1 tanks, fired on fellow US combat vehicles or units. In addition to the friendly-fire incidents involving tank-fired DU munitions during the Gulf War, there were three incidents involving A-10 aircraft and one involving the Navy's Phalanx Close In Weapon System. A major contributing factor in each of these incidents was low visibility from heavy rains, darkness, sandstorms, etc. In most cases, owing to battlefield confusion, the soldiers manning the targeted vehicles initially believed that they had been struck by Iraqi rounds.

DoD examined changing the rules of engagement to see if that could fix the problem. What they found was, if you tighten the rules of engagement to the point that you reduce fratricide, the enemy begins inflicting greater casualties on you. Waiting until you're sure in combat could mean becoming a casualty yourself. The DoD combat identification technology demonstration began in 1996. Researchers began testing promising technology in simulation and modeling labs and during exercises.

Survivability is one of the seven tenets of the Army Transformation Strategy and combat identification technologies represent an integral part of that strategy as they work to reduce incidents of fratricide. A key survivability enabler is the rapid, reliable identification of friends, foes, and neutrals. Project 482 supports the transition of ground-to-ground and air-to-ground combat identification technology to the Future Force with potential application as an embedded solution. Project 482 also supports the Combat Identification International Program to develop the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) interoperable combat identification technology as directed by the Senior National Representatives (Army). Project 902 addresses the individual soldier-to-soldier combat identification mission. Both project lines provide a critical link to ensuring compatibility and interoperability to the Future Combat System. These systems support the Current/Future Force transition path of the Transformation Campaign Plan (TCP).



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