Slow "friendly-fire" progress criticised


LONDON (Reuters) - MPs on Tuesday criticised the Ministry of Defence's "poor progress" in developing a combat identification system which could help reduce the number of so-called friendly-fire incidents.

Six British soldiers have died as a result of friendly fire, at the hand of allies, during the Iraq campaign, the Committee of Public Accounts said in a report.

It said it urged the MoD more than four years ago to improve its systems of combat identification so that the "fire power of our forces on the battlefield is directed at the enemy -- and not at our own servicemen and women or at civilians".

But progress has been poor because programmes have been put off, Committee Chairman Edward Leigh said.

"Over half of the programmes promising technological solutions to the identification of friend and foe have been delayed, deferred or rescoped," he said.

"And the department seems no further forward on co-operating with allies on developing a common battlefield target identification system."

Identification is significant as future operations are increasingly likely to be conducted in coalition with allies, it pointed out.

Combat identification is the way military personnel distinguish friend from foe and non-combatant during operations, minimising the risk of injuries and fatalities.

The single largest equipment project to help improve identification, the Battlefield Target Identification programme, has suffered considerable delays as the MoD attempts to work on a solution compatible with U.S. systems.
"A decision ... has still not been made despite assurances from the department and the development of a successful prototype in September 2001," the committee said.

It suggested developing a more limited, national system if agreement cannot be reached soon.

The MPs did acknowledge that the defence ministry has introduced better procedures for recording incidents that occur during training, though it has not yet begun to analyse this information.
Silly question, but instead of developing a compatable system, why not just buy a Blue Force tracker and implement it NATO wide?

Backhanders and brown envelopes doing the rounds no doubt.
The_Cad said:
Silly question, but instead of developing a compatable system, why not just buy a Blue Force tracker and implement it NATO wide?

Backhanders and brown envelopes doing the rounds no doubt.
That's far too obvious. Maybe the US doesn't want to share the technology, at least not with all of NATO. And of course there's 'industrial' considerations - no money for BAE/EADS/Thales etc. in an OTS US system. But if the UK is goign to continue to fight alongside the US then yes, BFT would appear to be the way to go.
The integration and interoperability of Blue Force Tracker with UK troops and proposed UK CID systems has been demonstrated some time ago. In procurement speak, that means Technology Readiness Level 7, the minimum requirement to attain Main Gate, and to proceed with a production and embodiment programme.

As it’s “ready to go” but, as the PAC notes, hasn’t, what are the reasons? The usual suspect would be funding, but I believe it goes deeper than that.

Blue Force Tracker is but one small element of Combat ID. Those who know how MoD works will realise “one small element” is the death knell for such a programme or requirement. Everyone (all stakeholders) immediately takes the line “I’m a minority Customer/User so nothing to do with me, but if someone else staffs it, does the legwork, funds it, procures it, supports it etc etc, sure, I’ll gladly use it”. And emerge from the shadows at the death and take credit if they’re successful. And stab those who tried in the back if it’s not.

Ingram is reported as saying;

"Incidents of friendly fire are tragic, and are generally caused by a number of complex, inter-related factors – not by the lack of a particular piece of equipment”.

This is true but, as usual, facile. It just proves the above – he’s a Government Minister yet he just doesn’t want to know. Too complex and, hence, career limiting if he gets involved. This is not leadership. At best, he’s a third rate manager. But never a leader. Sod off Ingram, you’re pathetic.

Why does Lord Drayson not speak? Under the recent reorganisation, he has been promoted to Minister of State. He’s no longer Minister (Defence Procurement) but has a wider remit as Minister for Defence Equipment and Support. Apologies if I’ve got titles wrong, but my point is that we are talking about acquisition (of which procurement is part) and he doesn’t comment. Why? Any bets on Ingram losing his job under the hardy Fifer, while his Lordship continues to lord it?

If you take a look at the various operational capability elements you get an idea of how broad the stakeholder group is. Air to Air, Land to Land, Sea to Sea, Air to Sea and so on. (I think surface to surface, which you read about in Combat ID papers, which groups land and sea as one, is too simplistic, if only because sea components can carry the weight of kit, but land can’t all carry (or, importantly, power) the same kit, so have separate requirements. And I’d break this down further for those very reasons - load and power - into Mounted and Dismounted).

The difficulty is therefore not technological, but organisational. While there exists a management process for delivering Combat ID, it requires experience, drive and determination to get to grips with it, and a long term team to do it. None of these are conducive to career advancement in MoD, so the able people avoid the task like the plague. And, whatever the technical solution, it requires integration. This is bread and butter stuff to Land and Sea DECs and related IPTs, but anathema to most Land equivalents. They have no history of doing it and spend huge amounts of money trying to work out what it is, never mind implementing it. Same goes for interoperability. Sea and Air tend to be able to communicate with friendly forces, albeit often via a convoluted route. The Army simply don’t see it as a requirement. Yes, I know YOU do, but how many Army projects include full funding for integration and interoperability?. Not a lot. They start off with good intentions, but soon ditch these core requirements as soon as the above problems become apparent.

The ethos must change. Because the above issues are unlikely to change in the near future – they were identified 20 years ago and successive regimes have done nothing – I think I’d propose appointing, funding and empowering an external body to manage the delivery of Combat ID. Someone who does not have to deal with the daily hassles of internal MoD politics. A higher Governmental appointment with the Services and DE&S told – “You’ve ****ed around for decades and got nowhere, so state your case, stand back, and take what you’re given”. The only imposition I’d make is that each Service would be represented by a respected retired officer. For the Army, I’d recommend someone like an ex-Commandant ITDU, who had been so appointed in the first place because he had the correct attributes.

Just my thoughts.
Excellent post, bakersfield. On what basis do/have UK forces used BFT in OIF/OEF? Did we have to give it back to Uncle Spam after the invasion phase? Are any UK units equipped with BFT now?
AndyPipkin said:
Excellent post, bakersfield. On what basis do/have UK forces used BFT in OIF/OEF? Did we have to give it back to Uncle Spam after the invasion phase? Are any UK units equipped with BFT now?
According to AVM Dalton's evidence to the Committee, BFT could be set up if needed for a future conflict. Sounds as if it would have to be procured/borrowed first.

I recommend a glance at the Public Accounts Committee's report - mercifully 'only' 32 pages! Link to html or pdf document - 'Progress in Combat Identification'


The Public Accounts Committee said:
Conclusions and recommendations

1. The Department has failed to develop viable Combat Identification solutions to
counter the risks of friendly fire incidents, despite their devastating effects, and
despite the recommendations made by the Committee of Public Accounts in both
1992 and 2002. Some improvements have been made, for example for air and naval
operations, but the Department needs to address the outstanding areas without
further delay.

2. Over half of the equipment programmes for Combat Identification have been
delayed, deferred or re-scoped during the last four years. A Battlefield Target
Identification System will not be available until early in the next decade. Equipments
such as the Blue Force Tracker and Bowman communications system may improve
situational awareness in the meantime, but the inevitable time-lag in analysing and
collating information from these systems will restrict their potential for positive
target identification. The Department therefore needs to develop a timetabled plan
for introducing a credible target identification system.

3. Progress in procuring the Battlefield Target Identification System has been held
up for six years awaiting allies’ decisions. The Committee recommended in 2002
that the Department develop methods of co-operation with allies on Combat
Identification, but preliminary decisions are yet to be made. The Department needs
to reach agreement with allies on procuring a system, or introduce, as an interim, a
more limited national programme, focusing on key risk areas such as ground to
ground combat...

5. During Operation TELIC the Department produced 60,000 Aide Memoire cards
to raise awareness of Combat Identification, but failed to distribute them to
front-line troops. The Department regretted this failure, which it attributed to more
general difficulties with supplies in Iraq. Cards are now given to personnel before
deployment. The Department should determine how successful they have been in
raising awareness among the troops concerned...

I won’t go into details, partly because of sensitivities, but this extract from QinetiQ’s website hides a story…..

We have a long history of working with military customers on all aspects of integrated Combat ID capabilities, providing deep experience in all three strands of Combat ID, i.e.

• Target Identification (Target ID)
• Situation Awareness
• Tactics, Techniques and Procedures

Our Combat ID related capabilities include:
• Target ID system assessment
• Combat ID architectural design
• Situation Awareness systems management
• Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) and Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR)
• Airspace management
• Real-time data links

Given all the above is true, why is it that they have “a long history” on Combat ID? Not so long ago 99%+ of their income was from MoD UK. This means that large parts of the MoD have, over a long time, funded research and development of Combat ID. QQ haven’t suddenly paid for this knowledge themselves, it’s MoD-funded when they were RSRE, DERA, DRA etc. And now they’re a private company, any Tom, Dick or Harry can take advantage of our generosity and exploit it – while we don’t.

Why was the R&D output not “pulled through” into Service? See my previous post. Noticeably, the PAC don’t really explore this detail. They’re prepared to criticise, but don’t want to dig too deep, or follow it through. They never know, one of them may have his bluff called by Broon and get Ingram’s job. So they stop short and are, effectively, toothless tigers.

Let’s just say if you wanted a Combat ID system for your troops, QQ would wheel out their (MoD’s) old trials kit from the 90s and you’d be astonished at how effective it is.
Thread starter Similar threads Forum Replies Date
JINGO The Book Club 7
Provost ARRSE: Site Issues 6
Slime Cookery 39

Similar threads

Latest Threads