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MPs criticise combat ID systems

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MPs have said poor progress in developing combat identification technology is compromising the safety of military personnel.

A report from the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says British soldiers are at risk of death and injury from "friendly fire" because the Ministry of Defence has failed to develop a technological solution to identify friend or foe.

"Over half of the programmes promising technological solutions for the identification of friend and foe have been delayed, deferred or rescoped," said committee chair Edward Leigh.

"Friendly fire deaths during the 2003 Iraq war have shown just how important it is to ensure that the fire power of our forces on the battlefield is directed at the enemy – and not at our own servicemen and women or at civilians."

Despite making investment decisions on a number of programmes to improve combat identification, the MoD's progress in purchasing these systems has stumbled.

A decision on a battlefield target identification system has still not been made, despite the MoD's assurances and the development of a successful prototype in 2001. The committee found that the ministry has had difficulties in developing a system which will enable British forces to communicate effectively with their allies, in particular the US.

In 2004 the MoD appointed Air Vice Marshal Stephen Dalton to act as a champion of combat identification, but he has neither budgetary control nor any direct authority. The report urges the ministry to determine whether greater management authority would make Dalton more effective.

The PAC first reported on improving combat identification five years ago. Since then the MoD has made little progress in implementing its recommendations, despite the deaths of six British soldiers in Iraq as a result of friendly fire.

In its latest report the committee says the MoD must address outstanding issues and develop a viable combat identification solution as a matter of urgency. It also recommends the development of a timetabled plan for its introduction, which is currently expected in about 10 years.

In the meantime, other systems, including Blue Force Tracker and the Bowman communication system, could help situation awareness. But the time-lag in collating information from these systems will restrict their potential for target identification.

Leigh said: "The department seems no further forward on cooperating with allies on developing a common battlefield target identification system. If agreement is not to be reached very soon, then an interim, more limited national system must be deployed."

The committee has previously warned that military personnel are sometimes poorly equipped and put at risk because of the MoD's inadequate management of procurement projects. In March it criticised the ministry's management of the Bowman CIP digital radio programme, which left British forces using radios dating back to the 1970s.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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