Army uses tech to prevent fratricide


GSM and satellite technology will tell commanders exactly where their troops are.Commanders at Exercise Young Eagle, the SA Army`s annual exam for its parachute and air assault troops, now under way, are using "blue force tracking" to see, real-time, where their soldiers are.

Ockert van der Schyf, marketing manager at Cybersim, the company providing the technology, says the trackers use GSM and satellite technology.

The trackers are integrated into BattleTek, the software Cybersim developed for the SA National Defence Force to analyse and test battle plans, as well as provide decision support and (simulated) command and control. The trackers support the last two functions in particular, Van der Schyf says.

The need for such systems was amply demonstrated by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, when more American soldiers were killed by their colleagues than by the enemy. During World War Two (WW2), 200 soldiers were killed recapturing an island near Alaska – before the Americans realised the attack was unopposed by the Japanese.

Blue force tracking prevents friendly-fire incidents because it does not rely on soldiers to push location data to their commanders. During WW2, state-of-the-art was someone reporting a grid reference off a map via radio. This required the soldier to have an idea of where he was and a working radio link with headquarters. Thirty years ago, the invention of the global positioning system removed the mystery of location, but still left commanders at the mercy of dicey radios and forgetful subordinates.

BattleTek essentially mates an electronic map with a database and a series of simple algorithms that manoeuvre one or more sides to an armed conflict over the selected battle space.

With the trackers, similar to those fitted to motor vehicles for insurance purposes, the co-ordinates of real forces are now included.

In the training environment, such as during Young Eagle, real soldiers are supplemented with simulated units. This takes care of flanks and provides an opposing force, "which is much more realistic", Van der Schyf says. BattleTek, he adds, "integrates the real and the simulated world”.