TCS Daily

Combating Fratricide

By Dale Franks - August 26, 2002 12:00 AM

Imagine if you will, a scene of battle. The American horse cavalry is performing its traditional mission, scouting for enemy encampments on the dusty plains. When the enemy is sighted, the horse soldiers send messages out, identifying the location of the enemy, so that an attack can be carried out. This scene is a real one. But it didn't take place in the frontier of the 19th-century Dakotas. It was how much of the War of Terror was fought in Afghanistan in 2001.

What an odd combination. 19th century horse cavalry carrying modern laser target designators and GPS receivers, and 50 year-old strategic bombers armed with laser- and GPS-guided bombs. Put them together, and you transform an aging nuclear bomb platform into a devastatingly accurate close air support strike craft.

Welcome to the world of "Defense Transformation."

The Pentagon is embarked on a truly revolutionary new course for warfighting. Not only are our soldiers learning new ways to train, fight, and win, they are also learning how to use old technologies in new ways that provide decisive effect. The situation in Afghanistan was a perfect example of this.

With this change, however, will come challenges and hazards that must be addressed.

The modern battlefield is already an inconceivably hostile and lethal place. It's about to get worse. With the weapons becoming available to the average rifleman, we are entering an era where someone is almost certain to be killed or wounded every time an 18 year-old Private pulls a trigger.

While this is precisely the desired outcome when facing an enemy, it raises the danger of increased levels of fratricide. In a battle where the weapons are more lethal, the movement more rapid, and the action more fluid, the time required to make shoot/don't shoot decisions will become more compressed, requiring faster reaction times as well. The increased lethality of our weapons systems almost guarantees that incidents of fratricide will result in the deaths of our own people.

In recent times, most cases of fratricide have occurred between ground troops and fast-moving aircraft. But that isn't the only possible problem.

For example, in nearly every campaign I know of, there are stories of scared young lieutenants or sergeants, who, under the stress of battle, have mistakenly called in mortar or infantry fire missions on their own locations. In the past, there was an irreducible amount of time required to lay indirect fire weapons onto new coordinates. Often, the person calling in the fire mission would realize his mistake, and issue a hasty correction before the fire mission could be carried out. But, imagine a situation in which a request for a fire mission can be wrongly entered into a targeting computer by that scared young lieutenant, received by the battalion's fire control center, transmitted to a mortar or rocket artillery platoon, and completed by sending rockets downrange in just a few seconds.

Once the trigger is pulled, there's no calling the bullet back into the gun.

To overcome these challenges, the Department of Defense (DoD) must ensure that individual commanders and leaders emphasize the necessity of getting things right the first time, because there may be no second chances.

The DoD must have adequate budgets for intense, realistic and continuous training. Much of this training can use the wide range of new simulators available. A good portion of training, however, needs to take place in the open, against real opponents, in an environment that closely simulates the real nature of battle. The mistakes made there can teach valuable lessons that will save lives in real combat later.

In addition, because so much of defense transformation requires joint operations, a fundamental shift in the way each service trains its members must be addressed. Far too much of our training consists of single-service training, rather than training for joint operations. For training to be realistic, to cite just one example, Air Force pilots need to train with Army units, so that they have experience in responding to close air support strikes.

One of the interesting things that the Marine Corps does is to regularly take their highly and expensively trained aviators, give them a rifle and a helmet, and send them out as Forward Air Controllers with the infantry.

Do Marine aviators like doing it? No. But they admit that it does give them valuable insight into what the infantry is facing, and it creates bonds between the aviators and the infantry, because they've served together. This is the kind of "jointness" that should be implemented in other inter-service training. In the fluid battlefield of the 21st century, that kind of mutual understanding may be very important.

To ensure that our training is of the highest caliber, the support of Congress is needed to ensure that the money is available. Unfortunately, joint-service training doesn't come cheap. But, armies fight as they train. Congress must provide our troops with adequate resources to participate in the most realistic training available.

"Transformation" is far more than a neat buzzword. New battlefield technologies will be arriving over the next decade that will utterly transform the way we fight. From the most sophisticated weapons platforms down to the individual infantryman, the next few years will be ones of radical change that will provide us with a vastly more lethal, mobile, and flexible armed force. But with those changes, challenges will come also. We must meet those challenges by addressing them through training and doctrine. After all, we want to ensure that our enemies, rather than our sons, worry about the lethality of our weapons.



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