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Reducing Friendly Fire Incidents

It is an accepted aspect of war that soldiers will die and incur life changing injuries. Especially in these days when modern battlefield medicine saves the lives of men and women who have been severely injured, it is even more tragic when these deaths or injuries occur as a result of friendly fire.

While it might be the most visible instance of friendly fire deaths, the Pat Tillman incident is not the only time that a soldier has died in this manner. The real question is how to avoid tragic repeats. An early estimate in 2002 suggested that nearly one of four battlefield deaths was a result of friendly fire (compared to approximately 2% in Vietnam and Korea). Please see background on friendly fire from the Global Security Strategy Page.

Recently, word of a program called Bold Quest reached the surface. Bold Quest is a demonstration of the U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) and allies will evaluate technologies in an advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD). The objective of Bold Quest will be to reduce friendly fire incidents and enhance combat effectiveness.

The program will be held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. and Ft. Irwin National Training Center, Calif. from Sept. 7-19. Coalition warfighters will team with Coalition forces to demonstrate and assess Coalition Combat Identification (CCID) technologies and how they work together.

USJFCOM's John Miller, operational manager for the CCID ACTD, said U.S. priorities in the project are currently oriented on the combat identification issues involved with the engagement of ground targets by coalition aircraft.

The problem of friendly fire is further illustrated by Air Force Col. Lou Durkac, the Air Combat Command (ACC) lead Air Force Col. Lou Durkac, the Air Combat Command (ACC) lead for the ACTD and one of the pilots who will fly in the demonstration, who said that “nations and services have current systems that can see each other but can't see across other nations or services.” He also said that "Each country comes to the ACTD with its own set of priorities," he said. "The integration of those priorities is what makes this work interesting and challenging for the ACTD's coalition team."

"A Marine aircraft can see Marine ground forces but it can't necessarily see Army ground forces," he said. "So now we're trying to take all of those ground forces positions and feed the relevant ones up to the aircraft before they release their weapons, so that they have the most situational awareness on where the friendlies are on the ground."

Royal Canadian Army Lt. Col. Peter Nielsen, Canada's director for the project also talked about the element of firing accidentally on civilians and the effect that such incidents have on the cooperation of the local populations. He said:

"But there is another dimension, from our perspective and the military operations in which we engage, and that is because it is so critical to have mission success in the Kandahar province in Afghanistan, for example, to win the hearts and minds of the populace. We also seek to keep international support, which is so critical to our ability to stay in the region and finish the job. We can not achieve that if we misidentify and engage the wrong targets."

After action analysis will then refine the operational concept (CONOPS) and help to guide improvement to the prototype systems we'll see demonstrated during Bold Quest. Of course, none of this will change what has already occurred. But the importance of reducing future friendly fire incidents cannot be denied. There are “likely” other techniques still be finalized that will not available for this test.