Bold Quest: Reducing Friendly Fire
BY LCOL DOUGLAS MARTIN
© 2007 FrontLine Defence (Vol 4, No 5)

Death on the battlefield always brings untold grief, pain and utter sadness, and those emotions are compounded when the loss is caused by friends accidentally killing friends – allies killing allies. The expressions for this horrid tragedy are ‘friendly fire’ or ‘blue-on-blue’ or more accurately, ‘fratricide.’

 
From left: Major Adam Barsby (Coalition Company Commander), Capt K.C. Evans (U.S. Army Company Commander), and Major Lee MaGee (U.S. Army), discuss the previous day’s tactical manoeuvres with a view to perfecting coalition operations during Bold Quest 2007.

Canada and its allies are determined to eliminate blue-on-blue incidents. Canada has been a major contributor with its allies to two demonstrations that were designed to fuse various nations’ operating procedures and technologies for the sole purpose of saving lives.

Conducted in Great Britain in 2005, Urgent Quest successfully focussed on the ground-to-ground fratricide issue.

Following that, in September of this year, a second event sought to focus on the air-to-ground issue. Bold Quest, which took place in Fort Irwin, California and Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, was a Coalition Combat Identifica­tion Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration.

Bold Quest examined and demonstrated the ability of Ground Forward Air Control Teams to use digital close air ­support technologies to enhance coalition mission effectiveness in melding technologies between pilots and coalition soldiers on the ground.

More than 1,800 military and civilians participated – from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States. Canadians comprised about 25 percent of the ground manoeuvre forces in Fort Irwin.

The ultimate goals of Bold Quest were to assess combat identification technologies in a stressful and challenging operational environment, improve coalition combat effectiveness, and integrate coalition capabilities, while reducing fratricide and collateral damage among allies on the battlefield.

“I’m quick to remind others not to forget the hundreds of close air support missions that our brethren in the air force carry out successfully saving lives, however, we’re here for one reason – to minimize fratricide,” said Major Mark McNeil from the Directorate of Land Require­ments at NDHQ in Ottawa.

Major McNeil was the lead for the Army in the planning and execution of both coalition demonstrations. His recent deployment to Afghanistan gave him first-hand experience of the combat conditions facing coalition soldiers. “We’ve developed simulated but realistic combat conditions that provide a lot of confusion on the ground. We want it to be challenging for the ­soldiers and for the pilots bringing in the close air support.”

Basic challenges facing participants involved incorporating technologies, bridging language barriers, blending operations with various types of national equipment, and coordinating different operating procedures of each coalition country – especially that of the Forward Air Controllers.
 
 
Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Nielsen, Canada’s Joint Lead and Project Director of Bold Quest.

Perhaps the greatest value of Bold Quest was the fusion of coalition technologies and operating procedures – a coalition vaccine for the friendly-fire disease. “We’ve created the template for putting together a coalition,” says Colonel Lou Durkac, a United States Air Force fighter pilot and the American lead. “Bold Quest could be the final rehearsal for coalition members before deploying into theatre.”

The value of joint coalition demonstrations such as this is also emphasized by Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Nielsen, Canada’s Joint Lead and Project Director of Bold Quest. “There is benefit for each country” he says. “It would have been unconscionable to have not been involved and suffered yet more casualties knowing we could have learned methods of ­prevention. We need to do whatever we can to reduce the scourge of fratricide.

“Technologies we’re using and the lessons we are learning will aid the commander in the battlefield to not only reduce fratricide risks but also reduce civilian casualties.”

The soldiers on the ground for the demonstrations were based on two infantry companies. One was an all-America company and the other was a Canadian-led coalition company including a platoon from ‘B’ Company, First Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, a platoon of Swedish Mechanized Infantry and an American reconnaissance element. Most of the participating countries also provided Forward Air Controller teams.

Bold Quest provided the allies a venue to demonstrate and assess cooperative and non-cooperative combat identification technologies that will ultimately ­provide coalition forces with a means to help identify enemy, friendly, or neutral entities on the battlefield.

One of the two company commanders in the field was Canadian Major Adam Barsby, whose approach was ­pragmatic and clear.
 
 
Canada’s Major Sean Hoopey and his U.S. counterpart, Maj Tony Suzzi, were Observer/ Controllers for the Coalition Company.

“It’s rehearsals, it’s understanding the plan – it’s being situationally aware,” says Major Barsby. “That’s what makes us ­successful at Bold Quest and that’s what will allow those who conduct the after-demonstration analysis to make us successful in an actual theatre of operations.

“We need to realize that we’ll likely always be working in a coalition in future operations, so it makes absolute sense for us to come together as allies and determine how we get by language barriers, different operating procedures, different types of equipment and different methods of calling for air support.

Few understand the effects of friendly fire more intimately than the coalition company’s senior medical technician Corporal Jean-Paul Somerset.

Somerset was a victim of multiple injuries during an American A-10 accidental attack on his company in Afghanistan on September 4, 2006. “My thoughts are two-fold,” says Somerset. “First is frustration at being engaged and taking unnecessary casualties, but the second is that the unit understood fully well how critical the close air support was – it’s a great asset.”

Somerset was with Charles Company, 1 RCR. His unit was completing its morning routine of burning excess garbage – he had just talked to Private Mark Graham, the only fatality of the more than 30 casualties, when the A-10 strafed their position. “I was thrown flat on my face and all I could see was sparks and stars,” says Somerset. “The sound was deafening – it was like sound of a television – that white snow when the channel goes off, but much louder.

“I knew I was hit. I felt the pain, but like 360° stereo, all I heard around me were people calling for medics. I got my med bag and tended to Major Matthew Sprague – the first casualty I saw.”

Cpl Somerset would spend the few next weeks healing at the medical facility. at the Kandahar Air Field before rejoining his unit.
 
 
Soldiers of B Company, 1st Battalion, » Royal Canadian Regiment, were part o the Canadian-led Coalition Company in a fire-fight in a purpose-built town during Bold Quest in Fort Irwin, California.

“As allied nations, I don’t think I could overemphasize the meaning of Bold Quest. Any work towards mitigating friendly fire should be enthusiastically pursued.”
 
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Lieutenant-Colonel Douglas Martin is Director Military Public Affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC.
© FrontLine Defence 2007

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