Select Committee on Public Accounts Fifty-Sixth Report


The Committee of Public Accounts has agreed to the following Report:


1. Combat Identification contributes to combat effectiveness by ensuring that military forces can distinguish between friendly, neutral, and hostile entities in the battlespace. It also provides assurance against an adversary using similar equipment or employing ruses such as electronic counter-measures and the wearing of similar uniforms or civilian attire.

2. The Ministry of Defence (the Department) defines Combat Identification as a combination of three elements:

  • Situational Awareness: Increasing combat effectiveness through the positive identification of friend from foe via a timely, high fidelity common operating picture.

  • Target Identification: Protecting friendly forces (and neutrals) from inadvertent attack by their own side (or, at least, minimising the risk of its occurrence) through the positive identification of all potential targets in the battlespace.

  • Tactics, Techniques and Procedures: Developed to enhance joint Situational Awareness and Target Identification capability because no purely technical solution exists.

Figure 1 illustrates how each of the three elements should combine to provide a balanced solution to the Department's Combat Identification needs.

3. The Committee took evidence on the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report on Combat Identification[1] from the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, the Director of Joint Warfare, and the Capability Manager (Information Superiority). Our Report examines three key issues:

  • Why Combat Identification matters;

  • Whether appropriate data is gathered on the level of fratricide;

  • Why timely decision-making on Combat Identification is important.

Figure 1: The Combat Identification Equation

4. Our main conclusions are:

  • All casualties suffered by our Armed Forces are a serious matter. Casualties among our own or allied troops from "friendly fire" are a profoundly unfortunate risk of war as are civilian casualties. In 1992, our predecessors concluded that the Department should redouble its efforts to secure an agreed approach to procuring what was then known as an Identification Friend or Foe system. A decade later, the Department has only just approved a policy paper on Combat Identification, and many of the solutions required to implement that policy are years away from fruition. It is unsatisfactory that the Department has made such slow progress in developing Combat Identification solutions to the risks of friendly fire, and it needs to increase the tempo of its efforts.

  • In addition to the risks to our Armed Forces, the absence of an effective Combat Identification capability can also increase the risk of civilian casualties in conflicts. If not addressed, public concern about civilian casualties may adversely affect the willingness of the public to support future operational deployments. The Department needs to provide a clearer account than it has done so far of the steps it is taking to reduce the risk of civilian casualties and when these measures will be in place.

  • Most future military operations that our armed forces undertake are likely to be in coalition with allies, which obviously complicates combat identification and increases the risks of friendly fire. The Department needs to develop the existing methods of co-operation to address these additional risks.

  • The Department possesses a dearth of data on the level of fratricide from past operations and exercises, and undertakes limited analysis of the data that is available. The Department should produce a database on the level of fratricide, and ensure that the information gathered is robustly analysed and disseminated appropriately within the United Kingdom and to coalition partners.

5. Our detailed conclusions and recommendations are as follows:

  (i)  The prevalence of operations with allies in various coalitions emphasises the importance of the Department contributing fully to NATO Combat Identification activities. Given its limited resources and the number of groups that NATO has established to look into Combat Identification, the Department has undertaken to review the level of resources it has committed to NATO. The Department should finish its review before the end of 2002, and focus its resources where there is most scope to make progress.

  (ii)  Interoperability with our allies, especially the United States, is of special importance given the frequent close involvement of our Armed Forces with allies. In Afghanistan the Department has regularly reviewed tactics, techniques and procedures with its American counterparts. The Department should establish a framework to enable it to reach similar timely agreements with other NATO and non-NATO allies as operational circumstances dictate.

  (iii)  As shown by the evidence from the Gulf conflict (where one-fifth of casualties were from friendly fire), the move towards manoeuvre warfare, with a less clearly defined battlespace and more joint operations, increases the need of the Department to undertake more analysis of the risks of friendly fire in joint and coalition operations rather than focussing on limited single service modelling.

  (iv)  By expressing the number of friendly fire casualties as a proportion of troops deployed rather than a proportion of all casualties, the Department is in danger of underplaying the implications of such casualties for the morale of the Armed Forces and the general public. The Department should consistently measure fratricide as a proportion of overall casualties.

  (v)  The Bowman communications system will provide a step-change in capability and be a key enabler for improving Combat Identification. The Department is now confident that Bowman is finally on track. Given the programme's long and troubled history, we will follow the progress of the programme both in meeting its current in-service date of 2004 and in delivering the promised operational benefits in our examinations of future Major Projects Reports.

  (vi)  The Rapier ground based air defence system cost some £2 billion to acquire but is not yet fitted with the Successor Identification Friend or Foe system. To minimise the consequent risk of friendly fire incidents, Rapier would for example only function at 25 per cent of its potential capability in circumstances similar to those in Kosovo. Under more adverse operational conditions the Department could relax these restrictions, with attendant risk. Nevertheless, the delay in fitting an Identification Friend or Foe system could limit the costly Rapier system to well below its full capability. To minimise the risks of such circumstances recurring, the Department needs to ensure that all relevant business cases for equipment programmes explicitly consider Combat Identification requirements.

  (vii)  Delays in decisions on acquiring up to date Identification Friend or Foe capability before the Gulf War meant that, as a short-term expedient to enable United Kingdom Forces to co-operate fully with our allies in the air environment, the system had to be procured as an Urgent Operational Requirement. The Urgent Operational Requirement was expensive, has led to increased maintenance costs, and provides another example of the adverse effects of not explicitly considering Combat Identification requirements in a timely manner.

  (viii)  The Successor Identification Friend or Foe programme is now addressing the capability shortfall in the air environment but a Combat Identification solution for the land environment, identified as a requirement following the Gulf War, will not start to enter service until 2006 at the earliest. In the meantime, operational circumstances could require the Department to procure an interim solution, with the associated cost penalties, in order to play a full part in coalition operations. The Department should set out clearly its plans for improving Combat Identification in the land environment, establish firm timescales for each action and ensure they are consistent with those of potential allies.

6. Historical evidence shows that between ten and 15 per cent of casualties during operations are caused by friendly fire.[2] The Department has stated that, in the Gulf, only 0.1 per cent of the force deployed were killed by fratricide.[3] Taken as a proportion of overall casualties, however, this figure rises to nearer 20 per cent.

7. The Department has not undertaken much detailed analysis on the level of fratricide from past operations and exercises, and cites a lack of material as the reason. Most information that does exist is American in origin. What analysis the Department has done refers to a small number of its training exercises which were single service and do not reflect the situation across all environments or across all conflict scenarios. The Department has said that it is starting to collect information on Combat Identification from its own exercises as a matter of routine, although at the time of our hearing few such findings had emerged from the Saif Sareea II exercise held in Oman during 2001.[4]

8. The Department argue that a move away from attrition warfare (like the Falklands conflict) to manoeuvre warfare (used in the Gulf) reduces the risk of fratricide. Yet manoeuvre warfare by its nature involves risk-taking, with a preference for high-tempo operations within a fluid battlespace where friend and foe are not clearly delineated. [5] The Department has not assessed the risk of friendly fire in joint and coalition operations although some work has been done with the United States on its bi-annual Joint Combat Identification Evaluation Team (JCIET), the latest of which was held in April 2002.[6]

9. In 1992, our predecessor Committee concluded that the Department should redouble its efforts to secure an agreed approach to procuring what was then known as an identification friend or foe system.[7] A decade later, the Department has only just approved a policy paper on Combat Identification. In part the problem has changed and is rather more complex than target identification, given changes in the nature of warfare and in potential technological solutions;[8] but progress has still been slow. Whilst the Department can point to thirteen areas where developments in Combat Identification have taken place in the past decade, many of the proposed solutions are years away from fruition as Figure 2 illustrates.[9]

Figure 2: Progress in programmes related to Combat Identification



Dates of entry into service


Secure tactical communications system

2004 onwards

Successor Identification Friend or Foe

Programme to implement Mark XII Modes 4 and S IFF with the potential to upgrade to Mode 5


Link 16

A tactical data link for aircraft and ships


Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD)

Improvement to GBAD's command, control, communications, computers and intelligence

2007 onwards

Airborne Stand Off Radar (ASTOR)

Long range all weather theatre surveillance and target acquisition system


Battlefield Target Identification (BTID)

A requirement for ground to ground target identification. An advanced concept technology demonstration will take place in 2005

At least 2006

Airborne System for Target Recognition, Identification, and Designation (ASTRID)

A programme improving air-to-surface detection capabilities.


UK Co-operative Engagement Capability (CEC)

Improvement to situational awareness and target identification for ships, which will interoperate with the US Navy

2008 onwards

Single Integrated Air Picture (SIAP)

A US-led programme to develop an interoperable tactical air picture

2001 onwards

Multinational Interoperability Programme (MIP)

A programme involving the UK and nine other nations to facilitate interoperable command and control systems, especially on land


Shared Tactical Ground Picture

Five nation capability integration initiative


10. One of the equipment programmes that will improve Combat Identification is the Bowman secure tactical communications system, which is intended to equip forces supporting land operations.[10] The programme has had a long and troubled history, culminating in the Department's decision to re-compete the requirement in 2000, and we have commented regularly on the issues involved in recent years.[11] The personal role radio, which was brought out of the Bowman requirement, has recently been successfully introduced into service. The Department is now confident that Bowman, which will cost £2.2 billion, will be introduced into service in 2004 on some 20,000 platforms and that it will greatly enhance situational awareness. Bowman is intended to enable our armed forces to see where each of the 20,000 platforms and 45,000 radios are situated in the battlespace.[12]

11. In addition to the risks to our own armed forces, the absence of an effective Combat Identification capability can also increase the risk of civilian casualties in conflicts, particularly those of low intensity, where a tank might for example be confused with a tractor.[13] Research efforts are being made to improve the ability to positively identify entities through examining radar signatures or engine characteristics.[14] Such programmes may improve positive identification by stand-off platforms such as aircraft, but there is also a need to reduce the risk of civilian casualties in ground operations, particularly in built-up areas, where an adversary might try to hide among the civilian population. Such scenarios potentially exist in many of the peace support operations currently being undertaken by our Armed Forces.

12. To achieve a common approach to Combat Identification it is important that the United Kingdom plays a full role in NATO and internationally on Combat Identification matters. Included in the NATO bodies which have an interest in Combat Identification is its Consultation, Command and Control Organisation which amongst other issues is charged with ensuring the provision of a NATO-wide cost effective, interoperable and secure Combat Identification capability. This body sets Standardisation Agreements for Combat Identification for member nations to ratify and the Department has committed to being compliant with these Agreements. The National Audit Office found that while the Department generally plays a central role in the work of the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Organisation it has not always been able to participate as much as it would like due to a lack of resources. Occasionally representatives from the Department have not always been able to take up some positions open to them.[15]

13. Most future military operations that the United Kingdom undertakes are likely to be in tandem with allies, particularly the United States. It is vital that the United Kingdom works closely with all its allies to ensure that all nations have a consistent approach to Combat Identification in operations. The United States is more advanced in digitising and therefore locating its forces, so it may be less important for them to have identification friend or foe systems than for the United Kingdom.[16] The need to agree on a common approach between allies therefore remains, and is particularly pertinent in operations such as those in Afghanistan that rely heavily on co-operation between air and ground forces. Recently, for example, four Canadian soldiers were killed after being mistakenly identified for the enemy by a United States aircraft.

14. The Department has taken care when deploying troops to Afghanistan to ensure that the risk of fratricide was minimised through dialogue with American forces regarding tactics, techniques and procedures. Liaison through the two countries' enables the respective chains of command to define areas where respective forces operate and to determine how the global positioning system is operated.[17] There is scope for similar dialogue with countries other than the United States for other operations.

15. Despite having spent some £2 billion on acquiring the Rapier ground based air defence system, the Department has estimated that in a scenario such as occurred in Kosovo, Rapier would only function at 25 per cent of its potential capability because it currently lacks appropriate identification capability.[18] In Kosovo, the High Velocity Missile and Javelin ground based air defence systems were also placed under a "weapons hold" procedure. Figure 3 illustrates the different procedures that dictate weapons control status.

Figure 3: Weapons Control Status

Weapons Hold Weapon systems may only be fired in self-defence or in response to a formal order.

Weapons Tight Weapon systems may only be fired at targets positively identified as hostile.

Weapons Free Weapon systems may only be fired at targets not positively identified as friendly.

16. The Department recognise that ground based air defence is an area where it currently has shortfalls in identification capability.[19] These are to be remedied under the Successor Friend or Foe programme, which will greatly alleviate the need for strict procedural control.[20]

17. Because of delays in taking decisions on acquiring appropriate friend or foe capability, during the Gulf War the Department had to implement an Urgent Operational Requirement for systems to be procured to enable certain items of equipment to be utilised during the conflict. Urgent Operational Requirements are not only more expensive to procure but also involve the Department in incurring increased maintenance costs because the appropriate economies of scale cannot be achieved.

18. The Department has allocated £6.2 million towards an advanced concept technology demonstrator for battlefield target identification for armoured vehicles.[21] This demonstration will allow individual nations to demonstrate that their solutions are compliant with the NATO standardisation agreement. The Department believes that it already has a compliant solution.[22] However, the actual demonstration, which will be led by the United States, will not take place until September 2005. As a result, the United Kingdom will not have a target identification solution for the land environment in place until at least 2006. In the meantime, the Department might have to resort to an Urgent Operational Requirement with cost implications if it were required to operate with allies like the United States in a sustained land campaign.

1   C&AG's Report, Ministry of Defence: Combat Identification (HC 661, Session 2001-02) Back

2   C&AG's Report, para. 1.5 Back

3   Q3 Back

4   Q51 Back

5   C&AG's Report, para 1.27 Back

6   ibid, paras 1.7-1.8 Back

7   10th Report from the Committee of Public Accounts, The 1990 Statement on Major Defence Projects and the 1989 Summary of Post Costing Activity (HC 143, Session 1992-93), para 3 Back

8   Q2 Back

9   Letter from the Permanent Under-Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, 23 April 2002. The thirteenth area, doctrine, is not related to any specific equipment programmes and so is not included in the figure. Back

10   C&AG's Report, para 3.19 Back

11   For example, 5th Report from the Committee of Public Accounts, Ministry of Defence: Major Projects Report 2000 (HC 368, Session 2001-02) Back

12   Q15 Back

13   Qs 68, 70 Back

14   Q71 Back

15   C&AG's Report, paras 2.18-2.20, 2.24 Back

16   Q49 Back

17   Q72 Back

18   C&AG's Report, para 1.27 Back

19   Q44 Back

20   Q12 Back

21   Letter from the Permanent Under-Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, 23 April 2002 Back

22   C&AG's Report, para 3.18 Back

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