Blue-on-blue incidents have always been an unfortunate factor in warfare, but a series of tragic events in recent times has brought the subject into sharp focus, in turn driving a need to devise and improve the means by which friendly forces can be identified as such on the battlefield. The introduction of longer-ranged precision weapons has heightened the challenge in recent years. Raytheon’s Netcentric Systems division believes it has the answer with a system that it has been developing for some time that is ready for production.
Numerous combat identification technologies have been mooted. Thermal panels have been proposed, but they also provide the enemy with ID information, marking the vehicle out as a target. Laser-based systems have been studied, but the laser quickly breaks up when encountering vegetation or other cover.
“This program came out of bad incidents in Desert Storm and now we are virtually ready for production,” explained Billy Mitchell, Raytheon’s business development manager of combat identification systems. “Initially it was a big system that could be fitted only to vehicles, but over the years we’ve driven down the size so that it can fit on a rifle. Size equates to cost, so now it’s become a lot more affordable.”
Raytheon’s system is based on millimeter-wave (MMW) high-frequency radio operating at around 35 GHz. Mitchell described this as a “sweet spot in the spectrum, where we can see through humidity.” At lower frequencies the directionality is difficult to achieve, while higher frequencies entail much more expensive systems.
The concept is similar to that used by identify-friend-or-foe (IFF) equipment in the air-to-air world. The system uses a small millimeter wave radio interrogator mounted on a vehicle or aircraft that emits a highly directed beam. The receiver picks up the signal and broadcasts back a positive ID, which can then be overlaid on sensor imagery in the cockpit, or at a fire control operator’s station in a vehicle. An “F” appears on the imagery, immediately giving the operator a positive identification correlated with the image. The directional nature of the system makes it difficult to detect, while the signal is encrypted.
Raytheon’s system was demonstrated in 2006 in a vehicle application, collocated with an LRAS3 turret on a Humvee. The air-to-ground capability was demonstrated in Exercise Bold Quest 09. The interrogator was fitted to a SHARP reconnaissance pod on an F/A-18 Hornet, which also carried an electro-optical targeting pod.
The pod found targets and also cued the combat ID system. The combined image in the cockpit display showed friendly forces with the “F” icon, even as they moved. Data suggested that a fair degree of identification could be achieved from more than 60 miles, and that in a close-air-support environment within 10 miles the identification capability was universal. The system’s capability in the dismounted soldier arena will be demonstrated in Bold Quest 2011.
Currently the U.S. Joint Forces Command is in the planning stage for the Joint Cooperative Target Identification program, which will analyze technologies for possible fielding, with technical development to begin next year.
Meanwhile, Raytheon is confident that its solution is mature enough to be ready for production. The aircraft-mounted system is small enough to not require a pod and could be mounted under a small blister, or as part of another sensor installation. There is also significant interest from NATO nations, as the interoperable system is already ratified to the relevant NATO STANAG 4579. Raytheon recently signed a manufacturing licensing agreement with Selex in Italy.