U.S. tanks in Bosnia lack an ID system Gulf war's friendly fire lessons yet to show results

February 22, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Five years after a stunned Defense Department revealed that a quarter of the 146 Americans killed in the Persian Gulf war died at the hands of fellow GIs, the scores of U.S. Abrams tanks now in Bosnia still carry no mechanism for determining friend from foe.

While U.S. forces are said to have better navigation and communication gear, and their anti-fratricide training has improved, they still are largely dependent on such low-technology devices as thermal tape and night beacons to keep from becoming victims of their friends.

An apparently reliable electronic ground system to help what is now called "combat identification" has been developed, tested and is ready for the field. But it has taken five years, has received only modest funding, and, as a result, is still at least two years from low-level production, experts say.

In the fight for weapons funding amid fluctuating military budgets, money for such combat-identification technologies has not been a top priority, officials say.

"It's a matter of times are tight, money's tight [and] the Army just hasn't decided that they're going to put money toward production," said Bob Stroud, an operations analyst with the Army's combat-identification program management office. "There are other, competing priorities."

Said Bruce Deal, a Defense Department technology expert: "We're not technology limited; we're affordability constrained."

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