A group of researchers from U.S. government laboratories and other organizations
is evaluating technologies that would improve the military services’ current
capabilities to identify friendly and enemy combatants.
These experts, under sponsorship of the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency, specifically are focusing on friend-or-foe ID technologies for the Army’s
Future Combat Systems. The group, called the FCS Integrated Support Team, or
FIST, has been in place for more than a year and is evaluating technologies
for various FCS applications.
“We help support the development and deployment of a combat ID notional
architecture,” said Glenn Allgood, a principal investigator at the Energy
Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who also is a member of the
FIST group. “Our job is to be the honest brokers,” he said in an
The technologies being considered for combat ID systems are assessed based
on their performance, maturity and cost. Among them are lasers, millimeter-wave
and radio-based combat ID systems. These technologies are mature enough to meet
the FCS development schedule, Allgood explained. “We developed a notional
architecture around that.” Nevertheless, “we have to make sure that
as we develop the notional architecture, that it doesn’t preclude the
use of other technologies in the future.”
Radio Frequency tags, for example, “look very promising for air to ground”
combat identification systems.
The FIST, Allgood said, recently developed a combat ID “fixed wing air
to ground spec that is going to be used as our assessment guide to see how effective
a proposed technology would be at supporting the combat ID needs for air to
RF tags is one of the leading candidates. “The specs are just rolling
out, so we are still conducting the analysis on RF Tags. ... Developing these
specs will allow any technology to be graded and compared as to its utility
in this role. ... The whole point of having the specs is to allow/provide competition.”
Among the technical difficulties that historically have hampered combat ID
systems is the ability to not just identify friend or foe, but also other categories
in between. Today’s battlefields have more than just allies and enemies,
Allgood noted. There are neutral parties and local civilians, for instance.
Another “major concern” is interoperability of combat ID systems
among the U.S. services and allies, he said. “We have had meetings with
Air Force, Navy and Marines to talk about close air support, air to ground specs.
There are technologies out there that are being proposed.”
Affordability also is a high priority for the FIST group, given the history
of combat ID programs, some of which were cancelled due to their high cost.
One of the most heated arguments at FIST meetings has been the merits of “situational
awareness” technologies (such as blue-force tracking systems and the Army’s
tactical internet) in solving the combat ID problem. “It gets to be a
very convoluted argument: what is situational awareness and what is combat ID,”
Allgood said. “It’s a chicken-and-egg argument.”
Is combat ID an element of blue-force tracking? “It all depends on the
definition,” he said. Whether situational awareness systems can prevent
fratricide “is the $64,000 question that I keep being asked.”
As the FIST studies move forward, he said, “we are trying to break out
and identify the functions that we now associate with combat ID ... I believe
there will be technologies that will be used in battle-damage assessment that
also will serve a purpose in combat ID.”
Military commanders typically understand this issue very well, Allgood said.
“The problem is trying to get a clear picture of that. Getting a spec
to define combat ID, blue-force tracking, battle-damage assessment. ... The
FIST combat ID working group is trying to get a handle on defining requirements,
a common ground and functional requirements.”
From a scientist’s perspective, Allgood believes that fratricide is a
“fixable” problem. The main concern is “what does it cost?
Is it affordable?”—-Sandra I. Erwin