Incidents of friendly fire would be easier to prevent if the military services
followed common guidelines for planning air campaigns and fire-support operations,
Each service abides by meticulous procedures and precise rules designed to
prevent friendly forces from entering each other’s air space and being
misidentified as enemies. But these time-tested procedures are likely to lose
relevance, as U.S. forces increasingly will fight in multi-service formations,
in a non-linear battlefield where demarcations are fuzzy at best.
Defense Department officials and military commanders have praised the U.S.
services operating in Iraq for combining their forces effectively, despite having
disparate communications, and command and control systems.
“When we grew up, we worried about de-conflicting service forces. We
threw the map on the deck. We drew the lines and everyone had to stay within
their boundaries,” said Marine Maj. Gen. Gordon C. Nash, commander of
the Joint Warfighting Center and director of joint training. Now, “we
are doing better. We are actually coordinating and integrating,” Nash
said at an industry conference.
But some experts caution that the old-fashioned approach to de-conflicting
the battle zone is likely to hamper the services’ efforts to fight more
jointly and lead to future repeats of what U.S. forces experienced last year
during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.
According to unofficial after-action reports from Anaconda, the Army and the
Air Force had trouble coordinating fire-support operations, mostly because of
disagreements over control of the air space.
Anaconda became a “wakeup call” for the need to establish common
guidelines to air-space de-confliction, said Mickey Gussow, an industry consultant
who led a Navy-sponsored study on joint fires de-confliction.
The Navy’s surface warfare division (N76) commissioned the study four
years ago to the National Defense Industrial Association’s Strike, Land
Attack and Air Defense Committee.
“We are always trying to de-conflict. It’s a very, very difficult
problem,” said Rear Adm. Mark J. Edwards, Navy deputy director for surface
Proof of that were the “blue-on-blue engagements” seen in Operation
Iraqi Freedom, Edwards told National Defense.
Joint combat-identification exercises in recent years offered further evidence
that the services have problems de-conflicting the air space, he said. “We
know, through real world empirical data, that this is an area where we still
have a lot of work to do.”
In a joint air campaign, all the services simultaneously are “trying
to track things through the air,” he explained. De-confliction means being
absolutely sure that everyone’s targeting algorithms are measured by the
“If I have a plus or minus 1,000 feet, and you have a plus or minus 100
feet, I am not going to trust you to say ‘go ahead and shoot,’”
Edwards said. “I want you and I to have the same engineering algorithm
behind the doctrine.”
The study concluded that the current approach to air space de-confliction would
make it difficult for the Navy to conduct “time-sensitive” strikes
beyond the line of sight, without risking fires on friendly ground forces or
having Navy missiles shot down by Army or Air Force air defenses. Time-sensitive
strikes are planned within minutes, unlike strategic missions that take weeks
to map out and coordinate.
The de-confliction problem is “more acute today, because longer range
weapons are available and the exercise of joint operations missions calls into
play concurrent types of operations characterized by the use of different weapons
and platforms, which may occupy the same space at the same time,” the
study said. “No matter how well the military services plan and execute
combat operations, many unanticipated things occur leading to chaos or what
is called ‘fog of war.’”
The Navy, specifically, wants to know the “dynamics of the air space,”
before it launches a land-attack strike ashore, said Steven Woodall, a member
of the study panel. “There are differences in how each service approaches
de-confliction and there is no common definition.”
The panel members discovered that each service is comfortable with its own
procedures and that most military officials interviewed for the study did not
believe that large-scale changes were needed, Gussow said.
Edwards said that the Navy alone cannot address de-confliction issues and he
wants the study committee to get the other services involved. The recommendations
in the study, he said, were “all-Navy solutions, [so] I asked them to
go back and look for joint solutions. ... We are not going to do it on our own.”
Gussow said the panel hoped that Joint Forces Command would take the lead in
getting the services to adopt common definitions and terminology in joint fire-support
mission planning. According to the study, “there is no overall guidance
or doctrine on de-confliction of joint fires. ... No service has a written operational
concept on the de-confliction of joint fires.”
The services, meanwhile, are upgrading their systems to improve interoperability
in joint-fires missions. A case in point is the Army’s command and control
technology for fire support, the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System,
which has been adopted by the Marine Corps and will be installed on several
By linking the AFATDS with the Air Force war-planning command and control system
(called the Theater Battle Management Core System), the services can automatically
de-conflict their fire missions, said Steve Bohan, technical director for AFATDS.
The data shared by these systems can help the commander assess “the real
risk of a mission,” Bohan said in an interview. The Army’s 10th
Mountain Division, which led Operation Anaconda, did not have this technology
available, because it did not deploy artillery systems.
The AFATDS also will interface with the Navy Fire Control System, which still
is in development, said Bohan.
“AFATDS is a key system in the joint fires network for the Army, Marine
Corps and Navy,” said Army Lt. Col. Jim Chapman, product manager for fire
Another system that shows promise as a fires-coordination aid is the ADOCS
(automated deep operations control system). Even though the technology is not
mature, it proved it can be useful in integrating the services’ planning
tools, said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. James B. Smith. ADOCS was successfully
employed during the 2002 Millennium Challenge war-fighting experiment, which
Even though technologies such as ADOCS can be “very powerful” as
a means of forcing integration, there is no one single right answer to the problem,
One significant hurdle that impedes “jointness” is the word “de-confliction”
itself, which is the accepted terminology among the services, but reflects the
“old construct of war fighting,” Smith said.
“The word de-confliction is a problem,” he stressed. “It
does not apply in a non-linear battlefield. But everything about de-confliction
is about lines.”
A more appropriate substitute for de-confliction would be “integration,”
Smith said. Integration, however, “is a huge challenge.”
The best example of effective combined-arms operations in the Defense Department
today is the Marine Corps air-ground task force—known as MAGTF. Marine
formations deploy as integrated MAGTFs of various sizes. “The Marines
understand joint command and control the best and are comfortable with it, because
they operate in a MAGTF,” said Smith. “In the joint world, we need
to integrate, like the Marines integrate combined arms in a MAGTF.”