Army Wants Uniform Accessory That Can ID Friendlies But Stay Invisible to the Enemy

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U.S. Army soldier call for fire exercise
A U.S. Army soldier from the 3rd Special Forces Group stationed out of Fort Bragg, N.C., pinpoints a target for an AC-130U Spooky during a call for fire exercise on Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 26, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Christopher Callaway)

U.S. Army equipment experts want to know whether defense firms can design a new level of technology for identifying friendly troops on the battlefield that can avoid detection from enemy night vision gear.

Avoiding fratricide is still a challenge for U.S. ground forces in particular, despite advances in technology ranging from small, wearable infrared beacons to sophisticated tactical smartphone-based systems that allow leaders to track the location of friendly units.

But responses from recent soldier surveys show a need for an enhanced Individual Friend or Foe (IFF) capability for dismounted soldiers that can be incorporated into uniforms and individual equipment and identified at extended ranges, according to a recent market survey posted on the beta.sam.gov website by officials from the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center (CCDC SC) at Natick, Massachusetts.

Related: Risk of Friendly Fire Long an Element of War

Interested companies have until June 7 to respond to the solicitation.

"The technology must minimize detection by common night vision goggles (NVGs)," according to the solicitation, which adds that technology should have peak performance from sunset through the hours of darkness to sunrise.

The technology can be removable or incorporated into uniforms or existing equipment, but it must minimize size, weight and power usage, the solicitation states.

The maximum size for an individual component shall be no greater than nine square inches and shall provide a minimum of 270 degrees of detectable coverage, according to the solicitation.

CCDC officials do not go into detail about how the IFF technology will be viewed and verified by friendly forces, but the solicitation states that the minimum detection distance from the detection source to the dismounted soldier should be at least 300 meters.

Army equipment officials have been working since the 1980s to equip troops with smart-soldier gear such as GPS-equipped Land Warrior and the more streamlined Nett Warrior systems that allow small-unit leaders to track fireteam locations by viewing them as glowing icons on a digital map.

Army modernization officials hope that the advanced target recognition technology in the new Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) will help close-combat soldiers identify enemy targets from non-combatants on the battlefield.

The Army awarded a $480 million contract to Microsoft in November 2018 to develop IVAS to give soldiers a heads-up display that allows them to view tactical maps as well as their weapon-sight reticle. IVAS is scheduled for fielding in fiscal 2021.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Read More: Army's Future Tactical Glasses Will Help Soldiers Tell Friend from Foe

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