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Dear Julian

I saw your piece in Volume 6 Issue 02 of Battlespace and Military Vehicle News on the Commons Public Accounts Committee report into Combat Identification and the continuing problem of so called “friendly fire”.

A fundamental issue not covered by the Committee’s report is the part played by combat identification and recognition training – or should I say the lack of it. As is so often the situation MODs around the world are spending vast sums of public money developing automated hi-tech solutions to an age old problem whilst ignoring one of the primary causes of friendly fire – the inability of personnel to recognise friendly forces in an operational environment. Use of correct IFF and approach procedures didn’t save our Tornado crew engaged by a Patriot battery during the 2003 Iraq War. Furthermore, lack of training must surely have been a contributory factor in the Milan attack by British Marines on their comrades in the waterways of Iraq.

What is sadly lacking in many forces worldwide is an appreciation that combat identification and recognition training saves lives. During Exercise Urgent Quest a participating Sergeant from a major NATO country was heard to say “forget the high tech solutions, just give me the training” after using NATO’s Combat Identification Training System (CITS). Sadly training of this basic skill is woefully inadequate despite being eminently affordable.

Is it not time for this fundamental issue to be addressed as a matter of urgency? The UK may purchase the Joint Recognition Trainer in 2009, though this is by no means certain. In the meantime in the UK, as in many other NATO countries, there is no formal policy on recognition and combat identification training. Where a policy does exist funding is often not available to provide suitable training tools.

To address this problem our company, DT Media Ltd, developed the Insight recognition and combat identification training system, which is in service with 17 users in 9 countries. Insight was used as the basis of NATO’s prototype CITS system, which in NATO’s Allied Command for Transformation evaluation showed between a 15% and 22% improvement in recognition skills amongst experienced personnel, who in theory should already have been highly proficient.

As has frequently been proven in the past, hi-tech solutions have a habit of under performing in battlefield conditions. Low probability of detection systems by their very nature are not impossible to detect. The first time the system is compromised many will either turn it off or face driving around with a beacon shouting to anyone that knows how to listen – “here I am”. Perhaps such a system can be developed eventually but at what cost and how good will it really be?

At the very least we should train our personnel to recognise friendly and hostile systems, and insist our Coalition partners do likewise. Recognition and combat identification should be a core skill for all personnel if we are to minimize future friendly fire incidents. Then perhaps the man or woman with their finger on the trigger can at least make that final fire or don’t fire decision based on knowledge of what they are seeing. A tank or APC with an unserviceable BTID system at least deserves a chance of surviving on the battlefield of the future.

Geoff Tompson
Managing Director
DT Media Ltd

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