Policy revision aims to defeat friendly fire

Military officials in recent years have become increasingly worried that

the sheer number of weapon systems to fill the airspace of the future battlefield

will overwhelm battlefield command and control efforts and lead to a rise

in deaths by friendly fire. But a recently published joint operations manual

should ease many of those fears.

The manual, "Multiservice Procedures For Integrated Combat Airspace

Command and Control" (ICAC2), was published in June, drafted by the Air

Land Sea Application (ALSA) center and signed by the doctrine development

commands within each military service. ALSA is a cross-departmental organization

chartered by the four services to rapidly respond to interoperability issues

by developing multiservice tactics, techniques and procedures.

The problem is that as the services seek to minimize casualties, they

are relying increasingly on planes, unmanned aerial vehicles, smart bombs

and missiles, and are filling the air with too many weapons to be effectively

controlled. The potential result is that friendly forces might be at greater

risk of fratricide.

Experts agree that saturated airspace is a major concern. "Regardless

of whether you think air power alone can win, airspace control is the essence

of any battlefield," said Ken Allard, senior associate with the Center for

Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C. "This

increasingly means the electronic element of command and control has to

be as tightly coordinated in practice as it is in theory."

The problem would be most serious during a full-scale war, but other

missions also raise concerns. Pilots flying into saturated airspace are

particularly vulnerable.

"I flew in Operation Northern Watch, where we didn't even have Army

guys on the ground with things like [the Multiple Launch Rocket System],

but it's still a concern," said a former Air Force fighter pilot. Operation

Northern Watch enforces the no-fly zone over northern Iraq.

Military command and control systems are, for the most part, information

systems designed to provide military leaders with greater control of forces

and weaponry and a better view of the battlefield. Each service has developed

many individual systems without data- sharing capabilities between systems.

"Effectively coordinating, integrating and deconflicting airspace used

by friendly forces will be a challenge in future operations," the document

states.

Army Maj. Rick Starkey, a joint action officer with ALSA, said of the

manual, "It's all about increasing effectiveness and decreasing fratricide."

The ICAC2 manual addresses the fratricide concerns by detailing information

that must be shared, including specificity, transmittal times, originators,

addresses and normal modes of transmission. It also codifies 25 critical

nodes, such as the Air Force Operations Center and the Joint Lair Operations

Center, and the communications links between them in order to readily identify

the means of transmitting airspace data, according to the ALSA World Wide

Web site.

In addition, the document places most airspace command and control responsibilities

on the shoulders of those filling three positions — the joint forces air

component commander, the airspace control authority and the area air defense

commander. Those officials will work closely together, making critical airspace

command and control decisions and reducing the risk of battlefield surprises,

such as Army missiles being fired while Air Force pilots are in the air.

"A lot of times, those three positions can be filled by the same person.

Ideally speaking, that would be the case because it simplifies things,"

Starkey said.

Though no one document can address every concern for every battlefield

situation, Starkey said the new ICAC2 manual goes a long way toward resolving

airspace command and control concerns.

"There are always going to be new issues based on any particular theater.

This does not solve every theater's problems, but it does set up responsibilities

for any airspace commander and certainly gives them a procedure from which

to work on," he said.

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