Monday, 3 January 2005

Fratricide Prevention: A Multi-tier Solution

Fratricide Prevention: A Multi-tier Solution

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 or unintentional death or injury to friendly personnel.

Fratricide in modern warfare is prevented through Combat Identification [Combat ID] and Situational Awareness equipment, together with proper tactics, techniques, and procedures.

Presently, many western countries use thermal panels and IR beacons for Combat ID. A thermal panel show up as a cold spot on a hot target image, when viewed through Forward Looking Infra Red [FLIR] sensors. Soldiers that see this contrast will identify the target as friendly. IR beacons emit a pulse signal that can be seen by night vision goggles [NVG]. Targets producing this signal will be identified as friendly.

However, enemy forces with similar equipment can also see them. Adverse weather, smoke, obscured panels, and human errors also hamper positive identification. Also, a modern weapon often has an engagement range that exceeds the sensor range of FLIR or NVG.
A better solution is now being evaluated. The Battlefield Target Identification Device [BTID] is similar to Identification Friend or Foe [IFF] used on fighter jets.

BTID works by having an electronic interrogator on the firing platform send an encrypted millimetre-wave Ka Band [33-40 GHz] radio wave towards the target. Transponders on the target receive the signal and send an encrypted "reply" signal back to the firing platform, confirming its friendly status, with a working range of about 5km.

The system works in adverse weather and smoke, and human error is eliminated by visual and audio confirmation on the equipment. Encryption and the narrow beam used reduce detection by enemy forces. The transponder antenna is mounted prominently to reduce the occurrence of an interrogator-signal being obscured, e.g. a tank in hull down position. By physically incorporating BTID into the firing process, identification before firing is assured.

A faulty transponder or an enemy will not send any signal back to the firing platform, thus presenting the soldier with an "unknown". Second-tier solutions like blue-force tracking will next be utilised.

Blue-force tracking offers situational awareness by showing all friendly forces on a screen. Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade-and-Below [FBCB2], a combat net radio-based system already in use in the US Army, is also used for command and control of units. RF tags can also be used similarly; these can be detected by the synthetic aperture radar mounted on command and control aircraft like the E-8 Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System [JSTARS].

Radio Based Combat Identification [RBCI] offers a hybrid solution, using Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System [SINCGARS] combat net radios. Software is installed onto the SINCGARS radio and no additional equipment is needed. An omni-directional GPS-tagged signal is sent out by the RBCI radio. Nearby units with RBCI radios will respond with its identity and location. RBCI is suited for indirect-fire platforms like mortars, unlike BTID, a directional system suited for direct-fire weapons like main battle tanks.

Individual soldiers can use the Dismounted Soldier Identification [DSID] system, which is similar to BTID, but uses laser instead of millimetre radio wave for interrogation. The system can also replace the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System [MILES] for tactical engagement simulation.

Tactics [e.g. battle-lines], techniques [e.g. rules of engagement], and procedures [e.g. muzzle orientation] round up the final multi-tier solution, although fratricide data during actual combat and training exercises show that tactics, techniques, and procedures have a limited effect on reducing fratricide. This may be due to related factors like high tempo of operations, fatigue, and stress.

Priority for Combat ID systems should be given to weapons with substantial killing power and beyond visual range [BVR] characteristics, e.g. strike aircraft, artillery and main battle tanks. These weapons have in the past produced most of the fratricide incidents.

Most wars are now fought by coalition forces involving several countries and various services. Therefore, fratricide prevention has to be a multi-nation and multi-service effort, with a standardised platform to work with. NATO's Coalition Combat Identification [CCID] project, which involves Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, U.K., and the U.S., is the one that looks most promising.

A NATO Standardization Agreement [STANAG], specifically STANAG 4579, has been drafted. There are now 3 STANAG 4579 compatible systems, BTID [U.S. Army, by Raytheon], BTID [British Army, by Thales], and Battlefield Identification Friend or Foe [BIFF] [French Army, by Thales]. Each offers slightly different features. The U.S. version is slaved to the main armament, while the U.K. version is steerable, so identification need not be done by pointing the weapon at the target. The French version offers a "bolt-on" feature for ad-hoc installation. Similar STANAG will be drafted for DSID & perhaps RBCI, with an eye on keeping compatibility.

Future fratricide prevention systems may move in a few directions. Combat ID may be embedded in other platforms like guided munitions and unmanned vehicles. This will depend on whether costs can be driven down over time.

There is also room to explore combining Combat ID with tactical engagement systems e.g. One Tactical Engagement Simulation System (OneTESS).

Finally, counter measures [e.g. jammers and direction finders] are likely to be developed when Combat ID equipment begin to proliferate.

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