The IFF Thread

From today's Telegraph:

Friendly fire threat to Gulf troops
By Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent
(Filed: 06/01/2003)

British troops should not be sent to fight in Iraq unless a system is in place to prevent accidental attacks by American aircraft, says a retired senior officer whose unit was bombed in a friendly fire incident during the 1991 Gulf war.

In a letter to The Telegraph today, Lt-Col Andrew Larpent accuses the Ministry of Defence of "serious negligence" in failing to introduce a system that would prevent such accidents.

Lt-Col Larpent commanded 3 Bn Royal Regiment of Fusiliers during the Gulf war. Nine of his men were killed and 12 seriously wounded when an American A10 Tankbuster aircraft mistook them for Iraqi troops.

The colonel launches his attack as the Government prepares to announce the mobilisation of 7,000 reservists and the deployment of troops to take part in any American-led war on Iraq.

The accelerating military campaign was underlined by reports in America yesterday that British special forces have already been in action with US forces in Iraq.

They have been orchestrating the growing allied air campaign in southern and northern Iraq by guiding munitions on to their targets using laser target markers, the Boston Globe reported.

Intelligence officials and analysts told the newspaper that small groups of British soldiers had been working inside Iraq with about 100 American special forces and 50 CIA officers for at least four months.

Their tasks have included marking minefields and monitoring suspicious movements around weapons facilities. Australian and Jordanian troops were also said to have been involved.

Lt-Col Larpent argues that defence chiefs should make the fitting of an effective Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system to front-line army vehicles "a pre-condition of the commitment of British troops to close combat operations involving the US air force".

The ministry's failure to introduce a technical protection system that would guard against a repetition of friendly fire incidents was "difficult to excuse", he says.

"There has been plenty of time over the past 12 years for a solution to this problem to be found. The MoD answer that 'we are working on it' is unacceptable."

Lt-Col Larpent says that some of the men who served under him during the Gulf war are still in the regiment and are due to be deployed as part of 1 (UK) Armoured Division to fight alongside American forces.

One of those due to be sent to the Gulf is the brother of a soldier killed in 1991.

"That the same soldiers are now preparing to undertake operations in the same theatre with nothing more to protect them from their allies than the same fluorescent marker panels we carried on top of our vehicles smacks of serious negligence on the part of the MoD," Lt-Col Larpent says.

"Our chiefs of staff and politicians should consider very carefully the risk that they could be imposing on our troops and how they will answer to the nation if yet more British soldiers become casualties in similar circumstances."

Lawyers for two American National Guard pilots being court martialled over the killing of four Canadian soldiers in a similar incident in Afghanistan last April blamed the error on drugs that were given to the pilots.

The courts martial will hear that, as a matter of routine since the Second World War, American combat pilots have been given amphetamine "go" pills to extend their ability to fly missions.

Lt-Col Larpent's letter follows criticism of the Ministry of Defence by the National Audit Office and the Commons public accounts and defence committees for its failure to introduce an effective IFF system for Army vehicles.

Despite highly critical reports in 1992 and 1994 by the committees, it was not until the 1998 strategic defence review that the ministry admitted it could not produce an effective system because the three services had different equipment procurement procedures.

Although the procurement system has been reorganised and work is going on to incorporate combat identification into the tactics and procedures of the three services, there is still no firm date for its completion. The audit office warned the ministry last March that modern weapons had left "few safe sanctuaries within the battle space", making friendly fire incidents much more likely.

Last August the public affairs committee said that, a decade after its first report, the MoD had just approved a policy paper on combat identification. Implementing that policy could be years away.
Sir - In 1991, I was the Commanding Officer of the 3rd Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers Battlegroup throughout the Gulf war. During the ground phase of the campaign, nine soldiers under my command were killed and 12 seriously injured as a result of a tragic mistake by US Air Force pilots, who engaged and destroyed two of our Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles. The negligence of the pilots responsible for this incident was established at the subsequent inquest in 1992, at which a verdict of "unlawful killing" was returned.

It is now almost 12 years on and some of the soldiers who were under my command in 1991 are still serving as members of the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, part of 7 Armoured Brigade, based in Germany. As I write, they are preparing to be among the first to be deployed if the Government decides to commit British ground troops to any operation against Iraq. At least one soldier in the Battalion is the brother of one of those killed in 1991.

As recently as last year, Canadian soldiers have been casualties of US "friendly fire" in Afghanistan. The risk of such incidents in war is very great, and I am aware that the matter has been the subject of a Ministry of Defence study. However, the fact that no technical protection system has yet been introduced to enable Allied aircraft to identify Allied ground vehicles and troops is a failure that is difficult to excuse. There has been plenty of time over the past 12 years for a solution to this problem to be found. The MoD answer - "We are working on it" - is unacceptable.

I believe that the Government and the MoD must be challenged on this issue. The fact that the same soldiers are now preparing to undertake operations in the same theatre, with nothing more to protect them from their own allies than the same fluorescent marker panels that we carried on top of all our vehicles in 1991, smacks of serious negligence on the part of the MoD.

Our chiefs of staff and politicians should consider very carefully the risk that they could be imposing on our troops and how they will answer to the nation if yet more British soldiers become casualties in similar circumstances. It is essential that urgent attention is given to providing an effective "identification friend from foe" (IFF) system for frontline vehicles as a precondition to the commitment of British forces to close combat operations involving the US Air Force. Reassurance for soldiers and their families that this matter is being given the attention it requires is urgently needed.

Lt Col Andrew Larpent (Rtd), Brockweir, Glos
Well done that man. Two questions - is there anyone out there involved/has been involved in the procurement or development of this kit, and if so, what's the Bobby Moore?

Second, I see Maj Paul Nanson of the RRF was awarded the MBE in the New Years Honours list - does anyone know how he cen be contacted?
Well said Sir,

The Warrior incident, is a very personal thing to all Fusiliers, TA and Reg , as we both lost people in that exercise.

One of our SPSI's was intimately involved in that incident, and I know it still hurts him.

The issue of IFF kit was brought up before. This is WW2 technology, and I can see NO reasonable excuse, for transponders not being fitted to AFV's or individual beacons being carried by soldiers (TACBE type).

Let's get this kit issued as quickly as possible. It is NOT rocket science, and any half decent tecchie, could build one/buy equipment off the shelf. Christ on a 2 wheeled conveyance, I could organise this, and have suitable kit identified within the week.  :mad:

However, IFF kit is the tip of the iceberg/sand dune, and this letter simply accentuates the problems.
The glib answer is quite simply don't go to war with the Americans as allies.

Anecdotally I have always noticed that the US Forces tend to be a bit more gung-ho than we do going into action and have more of an act-now think later approach in their air-forces. In the past 10 years we have seen 3RRF attacked, a Prowler fly through a mountain-side cable car in a ski resort, the Chinese Embassy in Sarajevo attacked, Canadia troops straifed, and a number of incidents in the former Yugoslavia with target mis-idents and subsequent attacks. I don't think that IFF alone is the answer, I think we have to put pressure on the US to look at the way they select, train, and inculcate their pilots, and teach them to be more responsible when they loose the constraints of a training sortie. I can't believe the excuse that a Warrior AFV looks anything like a T52, and if there was any doubt the pilot should have got down low enough to positively identify the intended target. Hanging out at 15000 feet where you are relatively safe and second-guessing who is below you is smilpy not good enough.
Seems to remember a story of an AAC Lynx pilot who was flying some 100 feet (give or take) from the ground along some American lines heading into Kuwait.  Story goes he noticed the top hatch open on an American APC, and up popped a US soldier, who took aim with his M16 and fired off a few rounds at the Lynx !!  He then slipped back down and the top hatch closed !!  Can anyone verify this story?


War Hero
It is easy to shout cries of yes . . .we  must have IFF and of course in an ideal world we should. However like most things, the matter is quite complicated and there are many technical challenges that need to be overcome first.

To give you a flavour:

-      IFF must be totally secure for allies and own forces, and at a very high classification. How do we change crypto over so quickly, easily and securely so that we do not adminstratively overburden ourselves ?

-      Compromise of crypto and/or captured equipment ? How do we physically change crypto easily and how do we prevent the enemy ‘learning’ our IFF signal or using IFF equipment from captured equipment to spoof us ?

-      IFF needs to be able to work in all weathers and line of sight. How do we cater for an infantryman with fleeting glimpses on an enemy through vegetation, and/or fog and rain ?

-      What happens if the enemy employs jammers against our IFF wideband, or only when we ‘interogate’ them ?

-      How do we stop the enemy learning our positions from our IFF emmisions ?

-      IFF Equipment in AFVs and on all infantry weapons must be guarenteed to operate effectively 100% of the time . Can we achieve this – aircraft perhaps but on the ground with the grit of war? What happens if the IFF equipment breaks down or there is a loss power though damage or loss of battery power ? Remember wrong or no response from our IFF eqpt means that we are enemy, and our IFF eqpt could be being interogated without the host even knowing !.

-      Training. Do we want the lives of our soldiers to be ruled by accurate identification by the human eye, or to rest with equipment that we are never quite sure is working 100% of the time, or the IFF might be compromised, or there might be loss of power, out of date crypto or etc etc.

Work is going on to address the points above, but I hope I have shown that there are many technical and training hurdles still to be overcome before we adopt a system that may cause more harm than good. Easy to say . . . we must have IFF . . . . but very hard (and costly) to achieve. No other coutries have achieved it yet. Food for thought.

More Details on the AN/UPX-24
The UPX-24 identifies aircraft and surface platforms equipped with Selective Identification Feature (SIF) Modes 1, 2, 3A, and C and provides secure, positive identification of cooperative Mode 4 targets. (Note: Mode 4 is available only if released by the U.S. Government.)

So there's your answer then, we can't have Mode 4, unless the US Government says we can. What a pile of pooh.

What we want here , is not a comittee deciding the best form this equipment should take, and a fat cat manufacturer then charging the earth to supply what is essentially simple kit.


The APX-113(V)/APX-111(V) provides full Mk-XII secure IFF capability, with Mode 4 crytographic functionality (using the KIV-6 crypto computer). This allows target identification by interrogating in Mode 1, 2, 3, or 4, and through multi-mode interrogation. The system is also Mode S (Level 3)-capable, which enhaces aircraft safety when operating in civil airspace or with aircraft using the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS). This feature should prove valuable in the commercial traffic-intensive Taiwan Straits. The APX-113(V)/APX-111(V) is MIL-STD-1553-compliant and has software programmed in ADA. The system's architecture is said to be able to accomodate future IFF/CAI growth modes.

Made by GEC-Marconi Hazeltine, APX-111(V) was first used on F/A-18 aircraft. Variant APX-113(V) is also used by the F-16 Block 15 MLU, F-16 C/D Block 50/52, and Mitsubishi F-2

This kit already exists, so why is it so difficult to buy this stuff and fit it?

As a short term battle fix, a simple squawk and identify system,as used in the average Cessna, or a TACBE type radio is cheap, can be bought off the shelf, and most importantly, might well save lives. If we wait for the all singing, all dancing soloution, it won't arrive before/if we deploy.
I think we have the reason why the Yanks act the way they do in the first article:

Lawyers for two American National Guard pilots being court martialled over the killing of four Canadian soldiers in a similar incident in Afghanistan last April blamed the error on drugs that were given to the pilots.

The courts martial will hear that, as a matter of routine since the Second World War, American combat pilots have been given amphetamine "go" pills to extend their ability to fly missions.

Now if you are on speed, you shouldn't be in command of a car, let alone an A-10 Warthog! There's a vast amount of difference between feeding your troops this sort of stuff to keep them going and feeding pilots it.

Wasn't it the US Mil that developed LSD for something similar?

Ramillies - you can get frequency-agile TACBEs today, with daily (or more frequent as required) updates to the frequencies using plug in keys, which themselves are updated via downloads. If captured, the keys can be easily destroyed and the beacons will be useless with the next frequency update. They do not emit a signal until interrogated (hence IFF = Ident Friend or Foe). They are apparently unjammable due to the mix of frequencies. You could have them attached to your vehicle, or more likely each person would have one ... this is the next stage in 'smart' weaponry where the weapons themselves will have IFFs attached so you cannot do a blue-on-blue! Theoretically it's all good stuff, but practically...? I'd certainly prefer it if I thought that the guys at the other end had been well briefed on positions and vehicle/troop recognition beforehand!  :eek:
Before we get too carried away with our Yank-bashing...
On recent TESEXes I have been killed 4 times, and only once by the enemy. Our inability to pass on vital locsats to our own unit is striking - no wonder the USAAF struggles.

Nor do I think the RAF would necessarily be any better. The fact is; if I call in CAS during a coalition op, it's going to be an A-10 or F-16 that provides it, not a Bulldog or mythical Eurofighter.

The standard of AFV recognition in the Army is shocking.  It clearly isn't much better elsewhere.  What is required is better AFVR from those of us with the luxury of some time (ie on the ground) and a 2nd fly-past from those in the air.
Unfortunately this is not the answer.  All US ground attack aircraft (or aircraft fitted with ATGMs), less the A10, fly only at medium level, which is above 15000' (or higher I believe, so they don't get shot down).  With the best will and AFV skills, identifying is uber difficult.  An electronic solution is thereby probably required.

Absolutely agree with our poor level of AFV recognition skills.  You only have to look at BATUS AARs to see this.  Wrs / CR do not look like the OPFOR, yet they still get hosed dwon by MILAN / Tks. It needs to be improved.
For a scenario such as GW2 is it essential that an IFF system needs to be secure and encrypted.

Surely air supremacy isn't questioned, and a small transponder only needs to transmit on a certain frequency for very short periods at regular intervals, which can be regularly changed, surely thier DF kit isn't going to be intact that long

I do understand that for future ops etc an encrypted system is required but to stop the spams shooting up our chaps in GW2 surely something makeshift and cheap can be fitted,

If a vehicle, command post a/c beats on that frequency at that time then don't shoot at it, surely even a spam can understand that.
Don't forget either that you can reduce it down to the lowest common denominator - as long as the AWACS controlling the strike aircraft knows where you are, you should be OK!

Well, that's the theory ...  ::)
Good Lord.

A serious post by MDN  ;D

Which serves to underline how serious this issue is.

We need a cheap "Battle-Fix" now. A system, either through frequencies of the day/half day/3 hours as per WW2, ,pre arranged morse idents/strobe patterns , or maybe something as simple as UV lights in a pre-arranged pattern.

The fact remains, that transponder kit is cheap, and an off the shelf item, that can be fitted at unit level,even in theatre .


This sort of thing has gone on through the ages ie friendly fire, it will not be resolved while politicians have too much say in any armed forces spending of their budget
As to solve it will cost money, and will not be spent as it does not get them votes to keep them in power, and in my view that is all they care about.
Latest Hoon statement

"Combat identification systems will be available in time, to ensure that we can safely work together"  15.45


Do you actually believe a word that Buffhoon says?

When exactly does he mean that this kit will be in place, and more importantly for who? Does he mean that we already have the kit, and if so to what level is it going to be issued?

I suspect that this is yet another of the pieces of the "off the shelf mountain" that is a complete figment of imagination and we will have to go out and use the fluorescent panels again.

Yes, there are problems with developing IFF and being able to safeguard the system, but we will presumably manage to do it when the elusive Bowman arrives.

It is about time that the govt forgot about the spin and started to give a bit more thought to those that they are actually going to send out to ensure that 2 Jags is going to have enough petrol to put in his cars.


The US airforces ie Navy, Airforce and marines have a long history of bad CAS and blue on blue.

The recent incidents such as the Afghan Canadian cock up and various incidents in Kosovo only go to show that a pilot trying to keep track of where he is, what his wingman is doing and listening to an AWCS controller  at 15k ft squinting at a 3" TV showing a relatively low res image and trying to decide if he is looking at a T54, Warrior of a tractor towing a group of refugees is there any suprise that bombs get dropped and missiles launched when they shouldn't.  

If pilots can't identify targets reliably from 15k they need to get lower - even if there is a risk that they could be shot down.  In my opinion better to lose the occasional aircraft than to kill your own troops.
Do you actually believe a word that Buffhoon says?

When exactly does he mean that this kit will be in place, and more importantly for who? Does he mean that we already have the kit, and if so to what level is it going to be issued?

No B_M , I don't.  There was too much stuttering and no eye contact when the statement was made. That however , is my personal opinion. If he had said "I am pleased to inform my honourable friend, that we have procured sufficient equipment, to ensure a reduced likelihood of a reoccurrence" then I might have been happier

His actual words were "there WILL be" ....etc etc etc.

As myself, and various other contributors have said, lets go and rob the nearest Pilot's supply shop, and get some hand held transponders, that will squawk on Mode 4.

Encryption is important, but NOT in this current theatre, if the Septic threat assesment is accurate. We need encrypted IFF in the Central European/Eastern European/Korean theatre, but NOT here.

Morale is a key issue here, and if you can guarantee to the guys and girls, that there is a sporting chance that anything you fit will stopped them getting whacked, they'll be a lot happier.

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