The risk of fratricide has always
been a consequence of warfare. Preventing such misshapes from
occurring, especially in ground-to-ground and air-to-ground, is
one of the major tasks in the conduct of modern warfare. According
to US Army TRADOC Fratricide Action Plan, "Fratricide is the
employment of friendly weapons and munitions with the intent to
kill the enemy or destroy his equipment, or facilities, which
result in unforeseen and unintentional death or injury to friendly
Implementing this basic doctrine
seems at first glance, simple enough:
Keep track on your own forces
constantly reporting their movement and location to controlling
Determine where the
enemy is located, through real-time intelligence
optical sight between friend and foe
identification established: Shoot-to Kill!
In military terms
this is called: Situational Awareness
putting this in practice is one of the more complex operations.
There are several factors which dominate every combat situation
military offensive operations are conducted at relatively high
speed and "round-the-clock", sometime moving over featureless
terrain under limited visibility conditions, such as fog, smoke,
sandstorm dust or rain. Much of the combat is shoot-on-the-move
engagement on fleeting targets of opportunity, at long
in desert fighting environment, the virtually unrestricted
combat ranges usually outstrip the gunner's ability to determine
positive target identification, even through advanced thermal
Real-time accurate knowledge of one's own location, location of
friendly, or enemy forces is affected, not only by limited
visibility conditions, but also due to disorientation and even
through lack of time to report continuously, by commanders fully
engaged in running-combat fire-fights.
This lack of positive target
identification and the inability to maintain situational awareness
in combat environment are the major contributors to fratricide.
All these ingredients became part of the Blue-on Blue incidents
during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Experience in Iraq 2003 clearly
indicates that modern combat is still a very dangerous business.
Ironically, the nature of modern warfare, however technologically
advanced, has raised the risk of fratricide. Combat aircraft fly
faster, tank gunnery fires at longer ranges, the lethality and
precision of advanced munitions leave little margin for error and
rarely miss their target, whether hostile or friendly. Technology
does not eliminate the human error on the battlefield and the
responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the tactical
commander to carry out his mission with minimum casualties for his
men, and this includes situational awareness to reduce the risk of
fratricide through constant real-time control of his forces. The
moral effects of fratricide can be devastating to fighting troops.
It can undermine the confidence in leadership, cause hesitation to
carry out orders and degrade unit cohesion.
Unfortunately, technology does
not eliminate human error, "carelessness will kill your buddies",
goes the old saying. In the words of veteran US Colonel David
Hackworth: "fear, nervousness, excitement and exhaustion numb the
mind and cause miscommunication and misunderstandings. These
circumstances are a recipe for error". Colonel David O. Bird chief
of Army material Command Fratricide Task Force commented: "There
is no 'silver bullet' solution that will do everything we want
to". It goes without saying, that a lot of money and scientific
ingenuity will have to be spent, until some of such ever tragic
loss will become history.