MoD to test 'Combat ID Server' from September
Airstrike inbound! Quick, turn the radios on!
The UK Ministry of Defence says it will commence trials of its "Combat ID Server" (CIDS) system from September, according to reports. The CIDS is intended to make it easier for people about to unleash heavy firepower to find out if there are any British troops in their gunsights, so helping to reduce so-called "blue on blue" incidents.
Jane's International Defence Review reports that CIDS will undergo testing from September until May next year. The demonstrator programme uses imported American Rosetta data-gate tech from Rockwell and NetLink kit from General Dynamics, but "all development and integration work will be conducted within the UK" by Qinetiq and the two US firms' British subsidiaries, according to Qinetiq.
The idea of CIDS is that it will maintain a database of British unit locations on the ground in the same way that US "Blue Force Tracker" equipment does, updated in "near real time". The CID server will pull in this information from many different sources, most notably at the moment the controversial Bowman radios used by UK land forces.
Every node in the Bowman "radio cloud" can locate itself using onboard GPS, and this information should be passed continually to the local CIDS. The system is intended to be compatible with US Blue Force Tracker gear as well as equipment to be used by British strike pilots, artillery commanders and so on.
This should mean that an American or British pilot, swooping down to drop a bucketful of Western values on some benighted battlefield in Afghanistan, will be able to see blips representing UK ground units in his or her heads-up display. This ought to help with the prevention of morale-sapping friendly fire incidents - always assuming that the pilot in question hasn't been placed on a course of war-amphetamines by a hard-charging CO, in which case he might be quite used to crawling blue dots appearing in his gunsights.
There might be other obstacles to total success with CIDS. One of the most important Bowman radios for this purpose, the "portable" set carried by the leader of every four-man team of dismounted British foot soldiers, reportedly has a few technical issues. Among these are the fact that it has poor battery life, and that the battery must be removed to check the charge level. This means that infantry corporals tend to leave it turned off most of the time, so as to be sure that some juice will be left when they need to send a message.
Sadly this will also mean that the Bowman box can't update the CID server with its position, and that no warning blips will appear.
However, CIDS is only at the demonstrator stage for now, and the Army is hoping to sort out the problems with portable Bowman. In the meantime, the system should at least work with vehicle-mounted nodes.
The Jane's article is here (subscription required). ®
Half a cheer, maybe...
Given the astonishing degree of supine inactivity (even by MoD standards) over the last twenty years in addressing the fratricide problem, I suppose we must raise half a cheer for the news that someone is trying to do something about it. However, one is less enthusiastic when one observes that the meaning of the term "Combat ID" -- which one might naturally assume to mean a system such as an IFF interrogator/transponder -- is being cunningly stretched to include the mere transmission of position reporting data (which is usually titivated up to sound more impressive by calling it "situational awareness", which it isn't, SA is something that happens in people's heads).
It seems tolerably obvious that this isn't going to work well enough to eliminate fratricide, and I strongly doubt that it will achieve any worthwhile reduction. Points about the frequency of updates and relaibility of the kit have already been made, and we know from historical analysis that Reason's "Swiss cheese" model of accidents applies very well to fratricide -- incidents occur when a series of low-probability conditions apply all at once, like holes lining up in separate laters of Swiss cheese. Keeping all this data in centralised databases won't help, either -- the answer to the challenge "Who goes there?" should not be "Please check with central records". The whole thing smacks of mindless technolatry, and using a technical fix to address a human problem -- it doesn't matter what the question is, the answer is always a database.
More unfortuately still, it seems that the motivation for this (poorly conceived, badly delayed) work is not to protect the lives of troops at all, but to improve "overall operational effectiveness" by allowing Captain Mudmover (or Sergeant UAVman) to drop ordnance more freely about the place without going through all those dreadful deconfliction procedures. It may indeed prove to be a great operational benefit to allow us to bomb Afghan wedding parties closer to our own FLOT, but I beg leave to doubt it. And the psychological principle of compensating reductions almost certainly means that idiot technophiles will lean on the technology in preference to doing their own thinking, and friendlies will continue to get blatted because they didn't show up as an icon on the blue picture screen.
Just so long as the defence research establishment remains content to conduct almost no fundamental research on the underlying causes of fratricide, the counsel of despair "it's always happened and it always will" will remain true. It's not that we couldn't do anything about it; it's just that MoD, as a matter of policy, has chosen for a couple of decades not to.
All the best,
So let me get this straight
This system is designed to work based on radios that die (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/02/05/army_tech_obsolete/page2.html) connecting to a GPS system that is supposed to die (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/05/21/gao_predicts_gps_failure/) controlled by people who can't use a payroll system (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/12/10/mod_pay_nightmare/).
CIDS - providing no real protection from the possibility of being murdered by your own army
CIDS or SIDS
If the "C" is pronounced as a soft "S"... that means this would sound identical to "Sudden Infant(try) Death Syndrome"?