Joint Forces test friendly IDs

FORT BENNING, Ga. — Joint Forces Command will wrap up a demonstration this week of systems used to identify friendly forces in urban combat.

A nearly two-week exercise at Fort Benning, Ga., involving American soldiers and Marines and Canadian infantry is exploring the uses of technology to cut through some of the fog of war associated with urban operations. Soldiers in urban combat are subject to stresses and situations that are not present in an open battlefield. Tight spaces, blind corners and the possibility of friendly or neutral injuries are high.

The exercise, which concludes Sept. 14, is designed to evaluate various laser and radio frequency technologies, said Army Lt. Col. Michael Fowler, chief of the ground combat division for the joint combat identification evaluation team.

"The sole purpose of this technology is to identify friendlies on the battlefield," said Fowler.

Using Benning's urban terrain training center, the soldiers and Marines will go through several different scenarios to determine the effectiveness and reliability of the Soldier Integrated Multi-function Laser System.

SIMLAS includes infrared lasers on weapons for interrogation — they send out a signal that looks for friendlies — disk-like laser detectors on soldiers for detecting interrogations and a small radio frequency transponder to transmit the reply to the shooter. When a soldier sees someone in his sights, he can query whether that person is a friend or foe. If a positive response is received, shooters hear signals letting them know that they are targeting an ally.

"What we have to do is make sure we get the right equipment for the most deployed weapon in the world: the American soldier," said Army Lt. Col. David Gallop, program manager for the Army's Land Warrior program.

Land Warrior features an ensemble of equipment and software. It includes elements of wireless communications, weapon-mounted sensors, Global Positioning System-based navigation and computers that integrate soldiers into a networked fighting team.

After the troops have run through various exercises, special infantry analysts debrief them to determine the technology's usefulness, whether it helped or hindered troops or if they used it at all.

An unidentified Canadian soldier said the use of an identification technology such as SIMLAS has great potential at a distance but presented relatively little benefit in close quarters.

Marine Cpl. Richard Ross agreed, saying identification technology at a close distance is generally not needed.

"If I can see you a few meters away, I can see if you have a weapon and what posture that weapon is in," he said. "I can determine if you are a threat. But from more of a stand-off position, I can see how this would have a great benefit."

The Defense Department has been developing technologies for years that can distinguish friendly troops from noncombatants and enemy soldiers. Much of the work up to this point has been geared at larger commands and vehicles, and acceptable technology for individual soldiers and Marines has not yet been determined.

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