Monday, November 29, 2010
A San Diego-based defense contractor hopes to prevent one of the most tragic ways to die in war -- friendly fire. Cubic’s new technology is designed to cut through the “fog of war.”
A San Diego-based defense contractor hopes to prevent one of the most tragic ways to die in war: friendly fire. Cubic’s new technology is designed to cut through the “fog of war.”
The Army reports 24 percent of U.S. forces who died in action in the first Gulf War were killed by friendly fire.
Steve Sampson of Cubic Defense Applications says the company has been working for the last seven years on a laser-based identification system to help troops on the ground avoid killing their own. Other prototypes being developed have used radio frequencies which can be intercepted by the enemy, and they tend to weigh more than is realistic for a soldier in the field.
“You’ve got someone in your cross-hairs and you need to make a decision whether to pull the trigger or not.” Sampson said, “Is there any instant, last minute activity that can tell you whether to pull the trigger of not? That’s the problem that we’re focused on.”
Sampson says Cubic has spent close to $30 million to develop something light that doesn’t add to the weight soldiers and Marines carry. A laser in the scope mounted on a weapon sends an infrared laser beam, encrypted with a code, which is changed daily. Instantly, if the target is an ally, tiny reflectors built into their helmet reflect back the word “Friend.”
Sampson says that information and the coordinates can also be relayed back to a commander, increasing what the military calls “situational awareness.” That kind of information is already being communicated from vehicles but not from individual soldiers on the ground.
“So what a commander could see with this system is where his local squad or platoon is, where are his friends," Sampson says. "He could also see other friends or other unknowns on the battle field. To do all this with something that only weights a pound or two on a soldier, it’s never been done before.”
Bill Rider of American Combat Veterans of War in San Diego says this kind of technology is sorely needed.
“If you remember Pat Tillman with Special Forces in Afghanistan -- he was killed because they thought he was a Taliban or an Al Qaida. If they had had the technology, then he wouldn’t have been killed, most likely. So this is something that a combat veteran would desire.”
Cubic Corporation has been working with NATO forces in Europe, as well the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, to promote their concept. The company hopes to hold trials in the fall of 2011.