Systems help avert friendly fire deaths

Col. Nickolas Justice

Ground forces in Iraq using the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below tactical communications system have reported no friendly fire deaths.

Fratricide'the accidental killing of friendly forces'has been a significant problem for allied forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 17 friendly fire incidents between March 23 and April 25, 13 American and five British soldiers were killed, in addition to 18 allied Kurdish fighters. Also, more than 77 allied troops were injured. But Defense Department efforts to solve the problem are having some success.

Besides the FBCB2 system, the joint Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS) has helped reduce friendly artillery fire in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

'We dropped almost zero fires on blue [friendly] forces,' said Army Col. Curtis L. McCoy, adding that in two cases in which units using FBCB2 tracking software mistakenly fired at friendly forces no casualties were reported.

The benefits of using these systems are expected to increase with the Army's plan to soon test FBCB2 and AFATDS on handheld devices for soldiers, Marines and allied forces on the battlefield.

More satellite communications

The Army also plans to rely more heavily on satellite communications, rather than high-frequency radio, to extend the systems' reach and adapt to the speed and flexibility with which troops maneuver, officials said.

Efforts to prevent fratricide by using advanced command, control and communications systems were successful in the first Gulf War 12 years ago. Pilots in aircraft equipped with the Link 16 communications system had no friendly fire deaths.

'The thing that's disturbing about it is we've known this for years,' said Arthur Cebrowski, director of the Defense Office of Force Transformation. 'When the Link 16 tactical data link was going through operational testing and evaluation, during the Persian Gulf War, one of the findings was that not only was performance better in aircraft that were equipped with Link 16, but there were no fratricides. But we still don't have all the aircraft equipped with Link 16.'

Part of the problem has been funding. Installing the systems is not cheap. For example, FBCB2 costs about $10,000 per ground unit to install, and the Army has paid developer Raytheon Co. about $270 million so far for AFATDS software development and field support.

Another problem has been the military culture because it's hard to get veteran soldiers to discard old methods for new and better systems, Cebrowski said.

'If you talk to anyone who has been involved in a fratricidal incident, who shot someone, they would start by saying 'If I had only known,' ' he said. 'Well, why don't we give them the capability to know? That's what these systems are meant to do.'

FBCB2, developed by Northrop Grumman Corp., displays images and maps that show troops where they are and where enemy forces are. AFATDS is an automated command and control system that prioritizes targets and then pairs a weapon system to the targets.

The move to give individual soldiers handheld devices running the systems is a significant shift. Currently, the systems are installed in military vehicles.

'In the past, we really focused on our mounted forces, frankly, because it's been hard to get something that a soldier can carry with these capabilities,' said Col. Nickolas G. Justice, the Army's FBCB2 program manager, who recently returned from Iraq.

Justice said Army units soon will begin testing 100 handheld devices running FBCB2.

'We could use it for street patrols,' he said. 'We haven't come up with a final solution. We're working with a couple of products now.'

Installed in ground vehicles, FBCB2 includes a PC with keyboard and monitor, satellite antennas and a Position Location Ground Radio. The antenna transmits data via satellite and provides Global Positioning System data about troop movements.

'People were very cognizant about where they were,' McCoy said. 'You could extend a force 30, 40, 50 kilometers and know exactly where you were.'

The system runs under Sun Microsystems Solaris and includes an e-mail application that ties into the Army's higher-level tactical communications systems.

With AFATDS, there were 'no incidents of artillery friendly fire incidents,' said Major Gen. Michael Maples, commander of the Army Field Artillery Training Center.

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