Committee of Public Accounts Press Notice

21st PAC Report 2006-07

Progress in combat identification

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

“Nearly five years have passed since this Committee made recommendations to the Ministry of Defence on how to improve its systems of combat identification. 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. But progress by the MOD has been poor.

“Over half of the programmes promising technological solutions to the identification of friend and foe have been delayed, deferred or rescoped.  And 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 MOD of course takes friendly fire incidents very seriously - so we were amazed to learn that the senior civil servant responsible for combat identification has no direct control over budget or staff. We need to know exactly what difference he has made.

“Our forces are increasingly facing the rigours of real combat, alongside the forces of allied nations, and they cannot wait year after year for the promised solutions to combat identification, only to find that they are as distant as ever.”

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 21st Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Ministry of Defence, examined three main issues: progress on equipment projects to improve Combat Identification; Operation TELIC; and data collection.

Combat Identification is the way military personnel distinguish friend from foe and non-combatants during operations. Effective Combat Identification is a means of minimising the risk of deaths and injuries from friendly fire while maintaining or improving combat effectiveness. Failures in Combat Identification can result in deaths and injuries from friendly fire (deaths from friendly fire are also known as fratricide), civilian casualties, reduced operational tempo as well as damage to civilian property and infrastructures. The Department aims to minimise the risk of fratricide without substantially slowing down operations which could increase the length of the conflict and result in more deaths from enemy fire.

The Department expects that future operations will mainly be conducted in coalition with allies. This makes Combat Identification more complex as it requires interoperability of equipment and harmonisation of tactics and practices.

The Committee of Public Accounts first reported on the Department’s efforts to improve Combat Identification in 2002. Since then the Department has made little progress in addressing the Committee’s recommendations.

There is no one single equipment solution to effective Combat Identification. The Department has in train a number of equipment programmes that aim to improve Combat Identification by enhancing awareness of the location of people and equipment on the battlefield. The Department has also made firm investment decisions on a number of other projects which will, in part, contribute to better Combat Identification. The Department’s progress in procuring Combat Identification related equipment has however been mixed as half of these projects have suffered delays, been deferred or re-scoped. The single largest equipment project to improve Combat Identification-the Battlefield Target Identification System-has also suffered considerable delays while the Department tries to scope a solution which will allow us to operate effectively with our allies, notably the United States. A decision on a Battlefield Target Identification has still not been made despite assurances from the Department and the development of a successful prototype in September 2001.

In April 2004, the Department appointed a Senior Responsible Owner to act as a champion for Combat Identification. He does not, however, have any budgetary or line management responsibility or other direct authority. He directs work to support improvements to Combat Identification and represents Combat Identification requirements and issues within the Department.

There were six deaths during Operation TELIC caused by friendly fire. The Department’s Boards of Inquiry have investigated each of these and concluded that they were caused by a mixture of technical factors, failures in communication and procedures and issues related to doctrine and training. However, there were considerable delays in the time the Department took to conclude the findings and make them publicly available.

The Department has made some progress in improving its data collection of friendly fire incidents and has created a database of them. Data from friendly fire type incidents that occur during training exercises and simulations can also provide useful insights. The Department has introduced better procedures for recording incidents that occur during training although it has not yet begun to analyse this information.

Notes for Editors

1. Contact details for requests for further comment from Mr Edward Leigh are provided below. ISDN facilities are available for broadcasting purposes.

2. The full text of the Committee’s Conclusions and Recommendations is attached to this press notice.

3. This report can be accessed via the internet from around 11.00 am on the day of publication.

All media enquiries to:

Alex Paterson
Select Committee Media Officer
Tel: 020 7219 1589
Mobile: 07917 488488