Marine Corps Targets Identification

April 2004
By Maryann Lawlor
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Service tackles friendly force casualty issue.

Incidents of fratricide continue to plague the military forces, but the U.S. Marine Corps is examining current technologies that could reduce them by enabling vehicles to identify themselves as friendly in less than one second. By building these types of capabilities to an international standard, joint and coalition forces would benefit, extending protection across the battlespace. The capability is scheduled to be assessed in a coalition combat identification advanced concept technology demonstration during the next fiscal year, and acquisition efforts could begin as early as fiscal year 2006.

Historically, 10 to 15 percent of U.S. casualties have been the result of fratricide. Even for as recent a conflict as the Gulf War in 1991, the statistics about friendly fire incidents resulting in death or injury are staggering. U.S. Defense Department figures reveal that 24 percent of the 148 military personnel killed in action and 17 percent of the warfighters wounded in action were from fratricide. More than 75 percent of all coalition combat vehicles lost during that conflict were destroyed by friendly fire. A Joint Staff combat identification research study, which analyzed both training and combat statistics between 1990 and 2000, showed that more than 97 percent of fratricide incidents occur in the ground-to-ground and air-to-ground mission areas. In addition, the study found that target misidentification is the principal cause of direct fire fratricides.

To begin to reduce these numbers, the Marine Corps’ Combat Identification Assessment Team, sponsored by the Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM), Quantico, Virginia, is moving ahead with its examination of the Mounted Cooperative Target Identification System (MCTIS). When fielded, MCTIS would employ encrypted millimeter-wave Ka-band technology that would be interoperable with joint and coalition systems.

The system comprises four line replaceable units. An interrogator antenna would be integrated with the fire control system laser rangefinder. The other three components include a transponder antenna, a transceiver and an information processor. Weapon systems and reconnaissance platforms would be equipped with all four components. Tactical vehicles would not include the interrogator antenna. The equipment would be incorporated into a variety of platforms, including expeditionary fighting vehicles, light armored vehicles and M1A1 Abrams tanks.

To determine whether a vehicle is an ally, the interrogator module would send out an electromagnetic wave pulse to the unidentified platform. Vehicles equipped with the transponder would decode the interrogation message and respond with an encrypted answer. MCTIS would allow mounted weapon systems to discriminate between up to eight friendly and potentially hostile targets with 99 percent accuracy at ranges of nearly 4 miles in less than a second. Targets would be identified as allied assets or unknowns that warrant further investigation. Using other technologies, such as the command and control personal computer, this information could be relayed to the command, control, communications, computers and intelligence structure and distributed to other levels of command, including platoon, battalion, regiment, expeditionary force and the Global Information Grid.

Anteon International Corporation, Fairfax, Virginia, is managing the MCTIS program for the Marine Corps. Col. Edward Seiffert, USMC (Ret.), combat identification program manager, Anteon, explains that the benefits of the system go beyond distinguishing allies from adversaries. “On the battlefield, it is an immediate force sorter for the gunner and the tank commander. If the gunner gets an indication that it’s a friend, he can go right by that friend and focus his interest on a different target. Therefore, he is not wasting time on the battlefield for a direct engagement,” Col. Seiffert says. If a target is identified as an unknown, the tank commander can then follow the standard rules of engagement to identify an adversary, he adds.

Craig Pritzker, project team lead, combat identification program, MARCORSYSCOM, explains that development of the MCTIS capability has been an iterative process. The development path that the Marine Corps chose is the result of an analysis of combat identification alternatives conducted by the service in 2000, he says. The analysis concluded that the issue of combat identification needs to be tackled in pieces, and one of the most important pieces is ground-to-ground fratricide.

Millimeter-wave technology is part of NATO Standard Agreement 4579 signed in 2001. Battlefield target identification devices also are part of the coalition combat identification advanced concept technology demonstration program that began in fiscal year 2001. The Marine Corps received a Milestone A decision in October 2003, which was the initial program implementation milestone for MARCORSYSCOM, he adds.

Col. Seiffert explains that the technology has undergone a long process with the U.S. Army and has been examined by the Future Combat Systems and the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle programs as the technology of choice to fit into its target identification and situational awareness capabilities.

As the Marine Corps begins the system development and demonstration process, it is examining equipment from three companies that already have developed prototype systems that could meet the service’s needs. Raytheon Company has produced the Battlefield Target Identification Device for the U.S. Army; Thales Missile Electronics has developed a similar device for the British Army; and Thales Communications has produced a battlefield identification friend or foe system for the French army. Col. Seiffert notes that all of these systems are at technology-readiness level six or better as defined by the Defense Department. Level one refers to technologies that are the least mature.

The Marine Corps has been tasked with proceeding rapidly to achieve a Milestone B decision, which would move the service into the next phase of the acquisition cycle by mid-2005. As part of the process, the team has conducted market surveys on all three of the available products.

Current evaluations have revealed that the French system is based on Thales Communications’ response to a French army requirement, which is less robust in terms of integration into the battlefield management system than that of the Marine Corps, Col. Seiffert shares. However, it does comply with NATO’s standard agreement. Thales Missile Electronics’ system addresses the British Army’s requirement, which is based on a hunter-killer routine. This means the British Army would have a dual capability, one through-sight capability and one tank-commander-controlled capability.

The Marine Corps’ requirement is not a combination of the two, the colonel emphasizes. It is really a derivative of the standard, he explains, and it encompasses extensive integration into the battle management system. Because the service uses various platforms with different features, the system it chooses must be somewhat versatile. For example, the M1A1 Abrams tank’s design would allow for hardwiring the system into the platform, but light armored vehicles do not have a sophisticated battle management system capability.

The MCTIS operational requirements document allows for this in a logical sequence, the colonel says. This means that the team will be able to leverage—in the expeditionary fighting vehicle, for instance—advanced technology and integration efforts using something as simple as a Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PC-MCIA) card through an Ethernet connection, he adds. The capability may be less robust in light-armored vehicles; however, warfighters would still be able to obtain positive identification of a friend or an unknown, he explains. “But there would not be a significant variance in any of those three products because most of the items would be encapsulated in the interrogator/transponder capability or the transponder-only equipment,” he says.

The Marine Corps’ acquisition process will leverage ongoing efforts; however, it has not yet been decided whether to adopt a commercial product or to develop the capability within the service. From a cost standpoint, the service is working closely with the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Advanced Systems and Concepts to explore cost avoidance issues by advancing technology and finding ways to deploy the capability quickly. “If it makes good fiscal sense and good operational sense at Milestone B to expend more nonrecurring dollars, then I’m sure the Marine Corps will examine that requirement or that possibility in light of the requirement. In other words, where we get the best bang for our buck. As of today, we cannot answer that question,” Col. Seiffert shares. Foreign comparative testing funding awarded last year, which does not include a production option, enables the service to evaluate non-U.S. products in relation to its requirements, he adds.

The Marine Corps is working closely with the Army, which has investigated combat identification technology and has not yet decided on the road it will pursue, the colonel points out. Because most fratricide incidents occur within a service, the Marine Corps has decided to go in a unilateral direction on this issue. As long as the other services and other nations’ militaries build to the same standard, the systems should be interoperable, the colonel says.

Col. Seiffert notes that, even though the Marine Corps has not determined a specific advanced technology to pursue, progress has been made in eliminating fratricide. Control measures put into place with simple visual systems during operation Iraqi Freedom helped decrease the incidence of friendly fire casualties, he notes.

Although industry has been exploring battlefield target identification devices for individual warfighter use, Col. Seiffert states that the mounted combat identification technologies that the team has been reviewing are four to five years old. In the area of vehicle-mounted equipment, all the services require alternatives that are lighter, smaller and lower in power consumption, he explains. The combat identification program team is confident that industry can develop technologies that meet these requirements, which are even more important in the air-to-ground arena because of the construct of the platforms.

Various military and government organizations have discussed the urgency of battlefield identification capabilities, he adds, and it has continued to be a top priority during the past 10 years.

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