Friendly fire system hailed

A system the Defense Department used in Iraq to prevent friendly fire incidents has received enough positive initial results to prompt the department to expand the system.

For the past several years, Pentagon officials have been developing a system to prevent friendly fire, or what the military terms blue-on-blue fire. Called Blue Force Tracking or IFF, for Identification: Friend or Foe, the system would allow U.S. forces to distinguish between fellow troops and the enemy.

"There are three take-aways we have learned so far" from Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Army Col. James Shufelt, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's combat identification assessment division. "The first is that killing our own is the worst thing we can do. The second is that Blue Force Tracking is a winner. And the third is that we will develop new Blue Force Tracking requirements and acquisitions as a result of this conflict."

Blue Force Tracking will consist of global positioning applications, communications, logistics and supply, and tactical overlays. The system is designed to put electronics on major moving parts, such as tanks, armored personnel carriers, aircraft and infantry fighting vehicles, but DOD would like to use satellite communications and terrestrial systems in the future. "Improvements will be continual," said Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello, the Army's chief information officer.

Preventing friendly fire incidents may be the most publicized use of the system, but sustaining forward- deployed forces and maintaining contact with them will be equally important, according to Army Maj. Gen. Steven Boutelle, who the Senate has confirmed as the Army's next chief information officer.

"The Army has been selected as the lead service for the architecture for the future of how Blue Force Tracking will work with joint forces," Boutelle said at an Army information technology conference sponsored by the Northern Virginia chapter of AFCEA International. "There is a lot of equipment out there now trying to handle these different jobs. We have a lot of devices with different latencies that we will have to put together seamlessly."

Cuviello noted that Blue Force Tracking system was "probably one of the most helpful and most successful" command and control systems used during the war. Other Official agreed that tremendous progress has been made.

"Brigade and below commanders used Blue Force Tracking to display a common tactical picture as well as instant messaging for situational awareness and tactical communications," said Brig. Gen. Michael Mazzucchi, program executive officer for command, control and communications-tactical at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

John Osterholz, director of architecture and interoperability in the DOD CIO's office, said combat identification systems, including high-tech dog tags and thermal panels, which enabled coalition forces to engage targets at night, worked well in Iraq, and he expects after-action reports to reflect that.

However, Boutelle noted that Blue Force Tracking was much more prevalent on aircraft than on ground forces, a source of some consternation within the Army and Marine Corps, who put their troops on the ground in harm's way.

"We can see ships around the world, planes in the air, but the ground forces were a big blank," he said.

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