Apps don't avert friendly fire errors

Despite the use of upgraded troop-tracking software, protecting warfighters from friendly fire incidents has been a problem for the forces deployed to Iraq, a senior Marine Corps official says.

More than 20 percent of all combat deaths in the first Persian Gulf War resulted from friendly fire incidents.

Even with the rollout of the Marine Corps' Blue Force Tracking software to help its troops locate enemy and friendly forces, friendly fire casualties have plagued the Corps during Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Lt. Gen. Martin R. Berndt, commander of Marine Corps Forces, Atlantic.

Combat identification remains a chief IT challenge for the military, he said this month at the TechNet International 2003 show in Washington.

'In Iraqi Freedom, we saw multiple incidents of friendly fire across the theater,' Berndt said. He said such incidents are caused by people having to make split-second decisions. Without an integrated, interoperable system, each of the services is operating with only a partial picture of the location of enemy and friendly forces, Berndt said.

'There should be one joint Blue Force Tracking system to ensure a complete picture of friendly forces,' Berndt said. 'We've got to field an interoperable system.'

He identified four other IT challenges for the Marine Corps:
  • Fielding a mobile wireless command and control system for use over extended distances

  • Making better use of available bandwidth

  • Turning data from information to knowledge

  • Exploiting new technologies rapidly.

In Afghanistan, the Navy and Marine Corps operated across a war zone that ranged from the coast inland about 300 miles. In Iraq, that distance doubled, Berndt said.

'This creates a challenge: How do you conduct mobile C2 over those distances?' he said. 'We need to get a solution fielded now.'


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