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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 03:14 GMT
MoD warned over friendly fire
British Challenger tank
Identifying land forces can be difficult during combat
The Ministry of Defence is not doing enough to protect British troops from the dangers of so-called "friendly fire", according to a government watchdog.

The National Audit Office (NAO) says modern warfare makes the likelihood of soldiers being killed or injured by their own side is more dangerous than ever.

During the Gulf War nine British soldiers were killed in an American air raid, and there have been a number of incidents since.


The department could be held legally responsible for any injuries or deaths resulting from incidents of fratricide

National Audit Office
The report highlights weaknesses and expresses some surprise that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has not conducted a wide-ranging analysis of the issue.

American data indicates that friendly fire could account for as much as 15% of operational casualties.

The report says the MoD has no clear budget or timetable to come up with solutions to the question of combat identification.

Developing a combat identification capability, designed to distinguish friend from foe, has been relatively straightforward for ships and warplanes.

Legal action

But the report says it was proving "particularly difficult" for land forces.

Combat identification strategies could range from painting inverted "Vs" on equipment or flying flags from tank antennae, to hi-tech, electronic target identification systems.

Tank in which British troops were killed by friendly fire in Gulf War
Nine British troops were killed by friendly fire during the Gulf War
The NAO report also warns that a "lack of resources" means that Britain is sometimes unable to participate fully in Nato discussions to develop a common combat identification system, essential for joint operations.

The absence of such of such a system in the 1999 Kosovo conflict restricted the effectiveness of Nato's high velocity missile and Javelin ground-based air defence systems, the report says.

The report also warns that without an effective strategy to minimise such deaths, the MoD could in future find itself exposed to legal action.

'Helpful'

It says the kind of operations Britain is now likely to be involved in, together with advances in weapons technology, have increased the risks of "friendly fire" casualties.

"The increasing range and destructive capacity of weapons will leave few safe sanctuaries within the battlespace, which may mean that friendly forces on the ground are inadvertently targeted by friendly weapon systems from land, sea and air where they are fighting close-in battles," it says.

"Combat identification will therefore become paramount to ensure that the effect of new weapons is maximised and that the inherent 'fog of war' is minimised."

BBC defence correspondent Paul Adams says the report is generally positive and the MoD has welcomed it as "helpful".

See also:

06 Dec 01 | South Asia
Rumsfeld warns of 'messy' war
11 May 00 | Africa
UN troops hit by friendly fire
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