Several countries are gearing up to award multibillion-dollar contracts
to upgrade their national combat identification systems and make
them compatible with NATO standards.
Egypt, Greece, Sweden and Saudi Arabia are among those nations
expected to acquire combat ID electronics, which are installed on
weapon systems to help prevent fratricide.
The United Kingdom already has invested hundreds of millions of
dollars in this technology. Two years ago, it started a Successor
Identification Friend or Foe program, or SIFF.
IFF systems, installed in weapons and surveillance systems, interrogate
potential targets. The friendly platforms have transponders that,
upon being interrogated, identify those platforms.
Companies such as Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems and Thales
are competing for a piece of the pie in upcoming IFF programs. Industry
sources said that the U.K. IFF program offered proof of the complexity
and considerable costs associated with these technologies.
Egypt issued a request for proposals and companies had until the
first of September to submit their plans, Raytheon’s Bob Askin
told National Defense. The competitors in this program—expected
to be worth at least 500 million Euros—are Raytheon, BAE Systems
and Northrop Grumman. Northrop officials declined to confirm the
company’s participation, citing competitive concerns.
The Egyptian government has been under pressure to get the IFF
program under way. During Operation Desert Storm, in 1991, Egypt
could not fly its F-16 and Mirage fighter jets in the U.S.-led coalition,
because the aircraft did not have NATO interoperable combat ID systems.
“They did not fly a minute—300 airplanes sitting on
the ground totally useless, because, if they ever flew, we would
shoot them out of the sky,” said Askin.
According to Pat McMahon, BAE Systems’ vice president and
general manager for IFF and display systems, the company’s
combined interrogator transponder (CIT) is the preferred technology
for the airborne interrogator in the Egyptian program.
The KIV-6 Cryptographic Computer is a component of the CIT Identification
Friend or Foe (IFF), Mark (MK) XII AN/APX-111(V) and AN/APX-113
IFF, which is currently installed on the F/A-18, F-16 fighters and
Under the U.S. rules of engagement, positive identification of
an airborne target is required before employing air-to-air weapons
beyond visual range. The CIT/IFF with the KIV-6 computer, claim
BAE officials, can identify an aircraft as friend or foe and helps
engage the enemy with air-to-air missiles beyond the pilot’s
In the United States, BAE has been involved in the Defense Department’s
implementation of the joint US/NATO Mark XII A Electronic Identification
Program, said McMahon. BAE also received contracts for IFF upgrade
programs in Turkey, Denmark, Norway and South Korea, said McMahon.
The funding for the Greek IFF program remains uncertain. The competing
companies are aware of Greece’s requirements, “but their
procurement plan is still very immature,” said Askin. The
value of this program will probably be similar to that of Egypt’s,
he said. “The expectation is that they will start to put some
hard requirements and requests for proposal out within the next
The IFF program for Greece should be similar to that of the United
Kingdom, said industry officials. The Greek military services are
seeking a combat ID system that would make them interoperable with
other NATO forces.
“They have got a whole bunch of capabilities for their own
national defense, which is important, but they don’t have
the ability yet to use any of that weaponry with NATO, to fight
in an environment with NATO,” said Askin.
The Swedes, meanwhile, have a functional IFF system, said Askin,
but the frequency band that it resides in has been taken over by
the cellular telephone systems.
An IFF upgrade program in Sweden is expected for 2004 or 2005,
said Askin. Prime contenders for this effort are the Swedish firms
Ericcson and Saab. “Because it is considered a national security
program, it has to be primed by in-country guys,” said Askin.
The United States and other NATO countries have been using the
system called Mark XII for a number of years, but the United Kingdom
had never implemented an IFF system that was compatible with that
standard, according to Askin. “Finally, they spit the bullet
and developed the program for successor IFF.”
The U.K. Ministry of Defence selected Raytheon as the prime contractor
two years ago for the program, whose value now has exceeded 200
million pounds. Raytheon is responsible of upgrading 1,000 individual
platforms for air, land and sea across 40 different types, according
to the U.K. Ministry of Defence.
Raytheon also was one of the contractors selected for the IFF system
for the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Askin said the 200 million pounds so far spent on the SIFF program
are just the beginning. According to the MOD, the program needs
to be completed by 2009. Askin said the whole SIFF program could
be installed in the next seven years.
Key weapon platforms will be upgraded first, so that they can be
used in NATO exercises or conflicts. So far, the company completed
design reviews and is getting ready to produce hardware and begin
installations, according to Askin. The program’s subcontractors
are platform manufacturers such as BAE Systems, Marshal Aerospace
and GKN Westland Helicopters Ltd.
“We are going to get their support for purposes of integration
and we need to get their help in order to time the right installation
schedules,” Askin explained.
Because of its large scope, the program appears to pose considerable
challenges in the management of platform integration and logistics,
said Askin. “So much has to get done all at once, rather than
a platform program by platform program. This is a total turnkey
Askin cautioned that a new IFF system is basically useless until
the entire upgrade is complete throughout the force and all the
platforms are equipped with the advanced electronics. Nevertheless,
he said, once a few dozen airplanes get the ID system installed,
they potentially could be ready to fly in coalition operations.
“The whole purpose is obviously to insure that all the U.K.
platforms can interoperate with NATO,” he said.
He noted that the technology available today is capable of accomplishing
this goal, even though the electronics involved are quite sophisticated.
“If we are all on a team, we all have to see each other, but
it takes a long time until the whole technology is integrated,”
“I don’t mean to put down the technological need, because
obviously you need high-tech stuff to be able to integrate it in
high performance aircraft, for example, but it’s so much more
than that for the program to be successful,” he added. “After
all is said and done, how can you rest assured that the execution
of your program plan resulted in a totally interoperable system
and every air defense site can see every air plane and every air
plane can see every ship and so on.”
All the individual platforms are designed and configured differently,
so they would need different types of installations, he said.
There are several steps involved in an IFF upgrade. “The
crypto-computers have to be keyed and the keys have to be managed
and somebody has to understand the entire systems requirement, and
has to be able to execute it. So, it is not just the technology
that can do this job.”
The core of the ID system is the crypto-computer, which is inserted
in a transponder. When aircraft are in flight, the air defense system—which
has the same crypto as that airplane—can interrogate those
airplanes and communicate. “A key is something that says the
crypto-algorithm is supposed to look like this today, this tomorrow
and this the next day,” Askin explained. “If you fly
by me today, you and I can communicate, and because we have the
same key when you fly by me tomorrow and we still communicate.”
The changes made to the key are classified, Askin continued. The
enemy will be trying to listen, but the key changes make jamming
and intrusion “almost impossible,” he said.
Even with the best cryptology in the world, however, if the keys
are not changed constantly, somebody will manage to break the codes
eventually. If enemy forces get the crypto, they can make themselves
look like a friend.
“But if you shorten the amount of time they see that crypto
and then the crypto changes, you don’t give them time to get
in,” he said. “It is like the secret crypto weapon of
The encryption considerations are important for NATO aspirants
and non-NATO members, which may end up fighting in coalitions with
“This will be a NATO standard system, and it will go to other
countries,” Askin noted. “It will go to other NATO allies,
but the core part about this is the [crypto] key.” NATO manages
the keys, so if it provides an IFF capability to a non-NATO country
and wants them to fly with NATO in the conflict, “we distribute
the keys, everybody keys up exactly the same way, so we all now
look like friends,” said Askin.
“If in the next conflict that world is changed, and if the
non-NATO country is no longer a friend, we just don’t give
the key to them. They just don’t get the keys anymore.”
The combat ID system would then be rendered useless.
According to Askin, Raytheon is already working with the sophomore
NATO members—the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. The company
is also working with Slovakia, he said. “We are actively helping
them upgrade their ID systems, but none of them has a total upgrade
program to do everything on one budget line,” he said.