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Need some info... how do you ID friendlies on the ground?

Sun Jul 22, 2018 7:50 am

Hi all,
This is directed to aircrews that do ground support, jets or helos doesn't matter.

My question is...
What procedures/tech is in place currently to help identify friendly troops and/or vehicles from the air? Is there something like IFF?

Re: Need some info... how do you ID friendlies on the ground

Mon Jul 23, 2018 1:21 pm

I was in a heavy mech brigade and the tanks had some type of IFF panel. I have no clue how they worked.
As for the rest of us, theForce XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) tracker had come out soon before I left active duty and I understood that the FAC parties were to be tied into that.
That said, I had soldiers who'd been shot at in blue/blue accidents in Desert Storm) and we always had our marker panels with the vehicles where they could be reached quickly, just in case. We even did that in joint gunnery ops as well. Not that this would have helped us much in bad weather or any other conditions we encountered often.
Didn't save us from a laser designator reflecting energy off a tree (nobody could see through optics ranged for the CONEX box target) halfway to the target once for a JADAM drop once, but that's another story. :?

Re: Need some info... how do you ID friendlies on the ground

Mon Jul 23, 2018 3:19 pm

p51 wrote:I was in a heavy mech brigade and the tanks had some type of IFF panel. I have no clue how they worked.
As for the rest of us, the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) tracker had come out soon before I left active duty and I understood that the FAC parties were to be tied into that.
That said, I had soldiers who'd been shot at in blue/blue accidents in Desert Storm) and we always had our marker panels with the vehicles where they could be reached quickly, just in case. We even did that in joint gunnery ops as well. Not that this would have helped us much in bad weather or any other conditions we encountered often.
Didn't save us from a laser designator reflecting energy off a tree (nobody could see through optics ranged for the CONEX box target) halfway to the target once for a JADAM drop once, but that's another story. :?


Thanks! Were the panels you had just an orange panel or was there something that ID'd you?

Re: Need some info... how do you ID friendlies on the ground

Wed Aug 08, 2018 9:56 am

Scott WRG Editor wrote:
p51 wrote:I was in a heavy mech brigade and the tanks had some type of IFF panel. I have no clue how they worked.
As for the rest of us, the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) tracker had come out soon before I left active duty and I understood that the FAC parties were to be tied into that.
That said, I had soldiers who'd been shot at in blue/blue accidents in Desert Storm) and we always had our marker panels with the vehicles where they could be reached quickly, just in case. We even did that in joint gunnery ops as well. Not that this would have helped us much in bad weather or any other conditions we encountered often.
Didn't save us from a laser designator reflecting energy off a tree (nobody could see through optics ranged for the CONEX box target) halfway to the target once for a JADAM drop once, but that's another story. :?


Thanks! Were the panels you had just an orange panel or was there something that ID'd you?

Sorry, just saw this. We used the standard cheap GI orange panels.
Mind you, this was pre-9/11 "budget Army," where all expenses were spared (I left active duty right before 9/11 happened). Once the FBCB2 system was in place, we were told that friendly air would also somehow be tied into it (thought the contractors could never tell us how and we were all quite skeptical about that).

Re: Need some info... how do you ID friendlies on the ground

Wed Aug 15, 2018 9:47 am

Sorry I'm chiming in on this one late.

I've done Close Air Support in combat in both a jet (F-15E in Iraq and Afghanistan) and something...slower...(a MC-12W/King Air 350ER doing ISR/Raid support in Afghanistan and...elsewhere).

I'm not sure *exactly* what you're asking, because there can be a couple different meanings of "ID Friendlies" depending on the situation. In a situation where I'm not being controlled over the radio (doctrinally, not actually "close air support" because of location on the battlefield), and thus don't have the ability to have someone on the ground talk my eyes on to their position, then it is purely my ability to visually ID the type and nationality of vehicles, etc, to tell who is good and who is bad. There is a good amount of effort spent training crews visual ID skills, but there are obvious limitations at the altitudes and speeds that I was working with. I'm sure the rotary wing guys are a ton better at it than I ever was.

When you are able to talk to someone on the ground, then you can coordinate some method of identifying the friendly position. During the day, it will be some sort of visual signal, like a series of mirror flashes, a VS-17 identification panel, colored smoke, or even just a recognizable pattern that vehicles are parked in or the unique shape of a structure or building friendlies are located in. At night, there are various methods, but most revolve around infrared and near-infrared markers that can be seen with Night Vision Devices and IR cameras on aircraft: IR strobes, IR laser pointers, IR reflective panels, etc.

Also realize that the ID requirements are different depending on where all of this is happening, and weather or not ordnance is going to be dropped/shot at any point during the scenario.

As mentioned, the most basic visual identification technique the VS-17 panel, a big piece of orange nylon that ground units can drape on vehicles or lay out on the ground near their position. I'll be honest, I never actually saw a VS-17 in all the time I was doing CAS in the F-15E...and I was looking for 'em. Just going too fast and too far away to see a large flag-sized piece of fabric.

There ARE some electronic methods that can be used, and they're generally as a group called "Blue Force Tracker". The F-15E did not have access to any of those when I was flying 'em, but some F-16s and A-10s have/had a system called SADL (Situational Awareness Datalink) that sort of worked with Blue Force Tracker. The Rules of Engagement in all of the combat zones I've worked in, though, would not allow information from datalink feeds in and of itself to be the only means of ID'ing friendly locations -- it always had to be backed up with some sort of talk-on or other marking.

Re: Need some info... how do you ID friendlies on the ground

Sun Aug 26, 2018 3:09 pm

Thanks Guys. Very useful information. I appreciate you taking the time to answer.

Re: Need some info... how do you ID friendlies on the ground

Sun Sep 23, 2018 9:14 am

For what it's worth, I was a Gun chief on M109A1's and M109A3 155MM SP Howitzers back in the 80's. Our NG Brigade, had the
orange panels ready for use anytime we were out of cantonment. (our base or garrison area) I had mine tied on the lifting eyes on the turret ready to open if we needed it. Even back then, Blue on Blue incidents were taken very seriously. Even during peacetime, and especially with reserve component troops.
Very interesting perspective from Randy Haskin. While learning how to FO, (not very well BTW, gun batteries loved training new FO's because you got to shoot A LOT of rounds lol) We did interact with A-10 pilots, I don't remember if they felt the panels helped or not, but I always felt safe having the panels. They HAD to see those right?

Re: Need some info... how do you ID friendlies on the ground

Sun Sep 23, 2018 1:16 pm

Randy Haskin wrote:Sorry I'm chiming in on this one late.

I'm not sure *exactly* what you're asking, because there can be a couple different meanings of "ID Friendlies" depending on the situation. In a situation where I'm not being controlled over the radio (doctrinally, not actually "close air support" because of location on the battlefield), and thus don't have the ability to have someone on the ground talk my eyes on to their position, then it is purely my ability to visually ID the type and nationality of vehicles, etc, to tell who is good and who is bad. There is a good amount of effort spent training crews visual ID skills, but there are obvious limitations at the altitudes and speeds that I was working with. I'm sure the rotary wing guys are a ton better at it than I ever was.

When you are able to talk to someone on the ground, then you can coordinate some method of identifying the friendly position. During the day, it will be some sort of visual signal, like a series of mirror flashes, a VS-17 identification panel, colored smoke, or even just a recognizable pattern that vehicles are parked in or the unique shape of a structure or building friendlies are located in. At night, there are various methods, but most revolve around infrared and near-infrared markers that can be seen with Night Vision Devices and IR cameras on aircraft: IR strobes, IR laser pointers, IR reflective panels, etc.

Also realize that the ID requirements are different depending on where all of this is happening, and weather or not ordnance is going to be dropped/shot at any point during the scenario.

As mentioned, the most basic visual identification technique the VS-17 panel, a big piece of orange nylon that ground units can drape on vehicles or lay out on the ground near their position. I'll be honest, I never actually saw a VS-17 in all the time I was doing CAS in the F-15E...and I was looking for 'em. Just going too fast and too far away to see a large flag-sized piece of fabric.

There ARE some electronic methods that can be used, and they're generally as a group called "Blue Force Tracker". The F-15E did not have access to any of those when I was flying 'em, but some F-16s and A-10s have/had a system called SADL (Situational Awareness Datalink) that sort of worked with Blue Force Tracker. The Rules of Engagement in all of the combat zones I've worked in, though, would not allow information from datalink feeds in and of itself to be the only means of ID'ing friendly locations -- it always had to be backed up with some sort of talk-on or other marking.


My interest lies in what the current identification systems are. The orange panel seems way to easy to spoof. I'm also curious as to wiether there radio emission protocals for ground troops or is this not considered. I wish I could say why but I can't at the moment. 8)

Re: Need some info... how do you ID friendlies on the ground

Sun Sep 23, 2018 10:52 pm

Scott WRG Editor wrote:My interest lies in what the current identification systems are. The orange panel seems way to easy to spoof. I'm also curious as to wiether there radio emission protocals for ground troops or is this not considered. I wish I could say why but I can't at the moment. 8)


Nearly all the comm between ground parties and air support is cypher encrypted. KY-28 with daily-changed crypto-keys is what we used all the time I was deploying up until 2014.

When it wasn't encrypted, it was at minimum on an anti-jam frequency-hopping system known as Have Quick.

The VS-17 panel isn't a singular means of ID, just one of a matrix of ID mechanisms that can be mixed and matched depending on circumstances.

Re: Need some info... how do you ID friendlies on the ground

Mon Sep 24, 2018 5:30 am

Randy Haskin wrote:
Scott WRG Editor wrote:My interest lies in what the current identification systems are. The orange panel seems way to easy to spoof. I'm also curious as to wiether there radio emission protocals for ground troops or is this not considered. I wish I could say why but I can't at the moment. 8)


Nearly all the comm between ground parties and air support is cypher encrypted. KY-28 with daily-changed crypto-keys is what we used all the time I was deploying up until 2014.

When it wasn't encrypted, it was at minimum on an anti-jam frequency-hopping system known as Have Quick.

The VS-17 panel isn't a singular means of ID, just one of a matrix of ID mechanisms that can be mixed and matched depending on circumstances.


I figured coms was encrypted, but it's still is emissive. That can be something that could be tracked. There needs to be an interactive way that a unit can identify itself, securely, without any EM spectrum emissions.

Re: Need some info... how do you ID friendlies on the ground

Mon Sep 24, 2018 7:56 am

Scott WRG Editor wrote:I figured coms was encrypted, but it's still is emissive. That can be something that could be tracked. There needs to be an interactive way that a unit can identify itself, securely, without any EM spectrum emissions.


If a unit is in need of direct air support, detection of their general location isn't really an issue: they're already being engaged.
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