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Can't we prevent friendly-fire incidents?

Every time I read about another friendly-fire incident (there was one last night), I feel like there must be some better way to prevent them. (The losses in this war — on both sides — all seem so damn unnecessary. They have nothing to do with the outcome. And it feels like there's nothing anyone could do about them — but maybe some of them really are more unnecessary than others.)

And, well, isn't there? Surely an outfit as technologically savvy (not to mention well funded) as the U.S. military could devise something that could identify a front-line unit as a "friendly." Communications technologies are so clever and so cheap these days; how hard would it be to invent a smart beacon, or something, to identify front-line coalition forces to each other? And not only are coalition forces apparently more at risk from themselves than from the Iraqi opposition, they hardly any seem to face much risk of capture. Security would be an issue (I realize you wouldn't want to give your enemy an easy way of finding and tracking you) but the Iraqi forces hardly have the means to discover how to intercept such a thing, and even if they did they don't have the time. And there are ways of making such devices useless if they fall into enemy hands. It seems like the benefits would far outweigh the risks.

Accidents are inevitable on the battlefield. But any battle the United States is likely to wage in the future will almost certainly be against a military force far weaker than our own. Our own weapons may pose a greater threat to our forces than any enemy's will. For all our investment in protecting our soldiers from an enemy, surely it's possible to better protect them from themselves as well.

Addendum (Apr. 7): This same question was the topic of a Washington Post article today.

April 6, 2003 12:04 PM

Comments (and TrackBacks)

Perfect Wars are for Perfect People
Alrighty now, lets remove those rose colored filters. Perfect wars don't exist, yet. Innocence has always been a victim in the persuit of those who grow and spread Evil. In the years since GulfWar-1 we've seen the most dramatic advancements towards decreasing friendly-fire incididents than we have in all the years the US military has been in operation. Seriously.

Infrared patches, wifi-esque beacons (they do exist, mostly in aircraft, not ground units for the reasons this blogger mentioned), better drilled procedures/methods during training manuevers (each soldier knows a host of little tricks to communicate to, say, a sniper that they're friendly), and so on, have all led to much lower percentage of deployed forces receiving friendly-fire than ever before in all of our wars. So, what's the problem here?

Part of it (most of it, actually) has to do with multi-force integration. In the time since Vietnam we've worked incredibly hard to mesh together the communication infrastructure of our own military's branches. In this modern era integrating our vassel states' military into our own is the big push. The problem here being mostly money. Believe it or not, the RAF don't got the cash we got to put little transponders into every nose beacon, much less every vest. These people are struggeling to get water into the hill settlements of the Midlands, much less figure out how to give their troops boots that don't melt (seriously).

Self-Loathing Americans
This is, largely, comprised of the shrill shrieking birkenstock, Amherst College-type, white, upper middle-class set who frequent shopping malls looking for this or that toy-gadget of the month. (yes, smite them i say ;-)They, by default, view all US efforts extra-homeland as bungeling, na´ve, and otherwise hampered by our inability to think properly. Why, ask most of them, and they view the US Military as being comprised of 90% Bubbas, and not as one of the most professional, higher-educated military forces in the world that it is -- that it IS. Not that they'd admit such under examination, of course, but the insinuations are there. This attitude is, clearly, behind many of our domestic complaints concerning friendly fire. Let's smoke 'em out for what they really are, for their true intellectual colors.

Problem People Find Problems
One of the things that makes the American nation technologically superior in the global market place is ability to think polemically (gotta love that Japanese/French/German software, eh?). But, as one with this penchant well wired in my mind, this has a downside of never seeing the positives in an otherwise very positive outcome (thus far). Let's face it, this will, if the trend continues, be recorded as one of the Least Bloodiest Wars in world history. And, that's what America is all about. Aiming for perfection, no matter how eternally long such an effort is. That City on The Hill ideal is well alive in WestPoint, thank G-d.

I think I hear a shrill shriek developing.

Should the Saddam-o-Thugs continue to flee outside of Baghdad towards Tirkit and Syria's State Sponsored Resorts with their suitcases of cash, porn tapes, and US cigs in hand, then this will, truly, be a very bloodless war when measured by its fire-power and its breadth of deployment. That's a growing fact. Alas, should they mass in Saddam City (that sqaure block in the NorthWest region of Bagdhad) and hold the Shi'is pop hostage (they are as I type), then we'll lose this fact. But, one day, such tactics will not work (benevolent gas/sonic disruptors, oozing goo, nano-locusts air dropped over a city by C-130's, et al), just give American know-how another 10 years.

I guess my point is this, let us reason and examine some of the measurable facts known thus far: far fewer people have ever been hurt by so many armaments than ever before in history. And, how and why?

American know-how and American desire to be perfect, no matter how imperfect we always shall be, but always a little closer than those who never cared to try. That's America.

.rob adams who remembers that europeans have no such ambitions, no matter how naive

Posted by rob adams on April 7, 2003 12:24 PM

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