Of Fratricide and Air Defence Command
Fratricide is complex, resulting due to lapses and problems at multiple levels. The most prevalent causes are breakdown in communications and lack of information18. After the Operation Iraqi Freedom, the United States Joint Forces Command (USJFC) carried out an evaluation of performance of US troops and determined that prevention of fratricide was the area requiring greatest need. As part of its study, the Centre for Lessons Learnt of USJFC listed the two most critical requirements – combat identification and situational awareness19. Both underlining the need for better surveillance, communications and integration of Air Force and AAD C&R networks.
The basic reasons for fratricide in air defence operations in our context can be listed as inadequate information, incorrect identification and lack of clarity in rules of engagement. One of the reasons of inadequate warning is the absence of seamless meshing-in of the Air Force Command & Control Network and the Control & Reporting system of the AAD. Presently this – a seamless integration of Air Force and AAD networks, is yet to be achieved to the desired level20.
Another option that is often debated is greater automation and use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to reduce fratricide. It is a subject in itself and needs a separatediscussion but in an interesting observation, the United States Army AD found that over-reliance on automatic mode of engagement by Patriot missile system caused an unusually high rate of friendlies being targeted. The most effective way of dealing with it was simple- of putting a human in the loop21. As per Lt. Gen. Dan McKiernan, commander of the US ground forces in Iraq, “What really makes all the difference in mitigating the risk of fratricide has nothing to do with technology. It has everything to do with the tactical discipline of units, of using the right fire support coordination measures, the right tactical graphics and the right weapons control status and discipline of formations.”
Though communications and identification are the key to classifying targets, it is the tactical measures that help control fratricide. Command and control at the sub-unit or fire unit level boils down to ‘fire discipline’- when to fire and at what target. It is ultimately the ‘fire order’ given by the fire unit commander that matters. One example should suffice.
One of the worst cases of fratricide occurred during the invasion of Sicily in World War II. On 11 July 1943, 144 C-47 transport aircraft carrying 2,000 paratroopers were to reinforce the beachhead. The landing troops on the beach had been attacked by German bombers just hours earlier and as the C-47s came in, a lone machine gunner opened up. As if on cue, everyone started firing at the transports and by the time the firing stopped, 23 aircraft had been shot down and 37 damaged. 141 paratroopers and airmen were killed by the ‘friendly fire’. Only 500paratroopers could be effectively organised at the drop zone22. All due to lack of fire discipline by the ground troops.
Some of worst cases on fratricide involving GBADWS have occurred with these weapon systems under Air Force’s command or being part of an Air Defence Command. Changing the command structure and not placing them under command of Army would only reduce the situational awareness, aggravating the causes that result in fratricide.
Controlling fratricide can only be achieved by better intelligence, control & reporting system backed by a reliable communications network and good fire discipline enforced by well laid down ‘fire control’ orders. These are all ‘control’ measures and not ‘command’ functions.
What is required is to have better information and communication networks. As Phillip S. Meilinger, a retired Air Force pilot with 30 years of service, writes, “the number of such fratricide incidents has decreased dramatically partly because of better intelligence.23These are the areas that should be focussed on.
It needs to be remembered that no country has reduced fratricide by having a unified air defence command, and on the contrary, the operational record of almost all such commands is rather discouraging in this regard. It would thus be prudent to have greater deliberations on the subject and not rush with a fixed deadline as the consequences are literally a matter of life and death.
Axe, David, That Time an Air Force F-16 and an Army Missile Battery Fought Each Other, War is Boring, 6 July 2014, accessed at https://medium.com/war-is-boring/that-time-an-air-force-f-16-and-an-army-missile-battery-fought-each-other-bb89d7d03b7d
Lambeth, Benjamin, The Unseen War: Allied Air Power and the Takedown of Saddam Hussein,Naval Institute Press, Ashington D.C., 2013
Axe, David, That Time an Air Force F-16 and an Army Missile Battery Fought Each Other
Dutta, Amrita Nayak, Navy will provide crucial intelligence to northern, western border theatre commands: Rawat, The Print, 16 May 2020, accessed at https://theprint.in/defence/navy-will-provide-crucial-intelligence-to-northern-western-border-theatre-commands-rawat/423106/
The incident was reported by 3rd Indian LAA battery that had a troop deployed near the 8th HAA Battery. (War Diary of 3rd Indian LAA Battery, held by History Division, Ministry of Defence, RK Puram, New Delhi).
War Diary of 3rd Indian AA Brigade, held by History Division, Ministry of Defence, RK Puram, New Delhi.
8.Jagan Mohan PVS and Chopra, Samir, The India Pakistan Air War of 1965, Manohar, New Delhi, 2009, p 70.
9.Jagan Mohan PVS and Chopra, Samir, p 272
10.Anchit Gupta and Jagan PVS, The S-75 Dvina – India’s first Surface to Air Guided Weapon, Bharat Rakshak, 19 Oct 2018 accessed at https://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/ aircraft/past/ 949-s75-dvina-sagw.html
- Prasad, SN, The India-Pakistan War of 1971: A History, Natraj Publishers, New Delhi, 2014
12.Nordeen, Lon O., Air Warfare in the Missile Age, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., 2002, p196 (Kindle Edition)
- Singh, Mandeep, Air Defence Artillery in Combat 1972-Present, Pen & Sword Books, Barnsley, 2020, p 25
- Singh, Mandeep, p 32
- Talbot, David, Preventing “Fratricide”, MIT Technology Review, 1 June , 2005 accessed at https://www.technologyreview.com/2005/06/01/230882/preventing-fratricide/
16.Pubby, Manu, Shooting down Mi17 a big mistake: IAF Chief, Economic Times, 5 October 2019, accessed at https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/shooting-down-chopper-on-feb-27-was-big-mistake-says-iaf-chief/articleshow/71437387.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
- Lingering Training and Equipment Issues Hamper Air Support of Ground Forces, Report to the Ranking MinorityMembers, Subcommittees on TotalForce and Readiness, Committee onArmed Services, House ofRepresentatives, United States General Accounting Office Report GAO-03-505, May 2003 accessed at https://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03505.pdf
18.Laura A. Rafferty, Neville A. Stanton, The Human Factors of Fratricide, CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017
19.Air Force Magazine, Volume 86, Issues 2-12, December 2003, p 15
- Lt Gen (Dr) V K Saxena (Retd), Air Defence Command – Some Salient Aspects, Vivekanad International Foundation, 17 January, 2020 accessed at
21.Hess, Pamela, The Patriot’s fratricide record, United Press International, 24 April, 2003, accessed at https://www.upi.com/Defense-News/2003/04/24/Feature-The-Patriots-fratricide-record/63991051224638/
22.Who goes there : friend or foe?, Office of Technology Assessment, Congress of the United States, Diane Publishing, 1993, p 16
23.Meilinger, Peter S.,Fratricide, Air Force magazine, 1 January, 2013 accessed at https://www.airforcemag.com/article/0113fratricide/