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Is A Mistake Free Sensor-To-Shooter Link Possible?

Call for fire  

One day in April 2003, during the invasion of Iraq,I was an embedded reporter sitting in the 3rd Infantry Division'sDivarty TOC when an MLRS rocket was accidentally fired into the middle of acity. The errant rocket was the result of target grid coordinates being off bya single digit. A roomful of officers watched a computer screen as the rockettracked into a densely packed neighborhood instead of hitting the Iraqiartillery battery that had been targeted. The room fell silent as everybodyrealized what had just happened. The officer who made the mistake was  visibly shaken.

This weekend, ISAF commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal suspended the useof HIMARS rockets after Marines fighting in the Marja offensive in southern Afghanistancalled in a strike that hit a compound and killed 12 civilians. HIMARS is atruck mounted mini-MLRS system, firing the same rockets as its bigger cousin.

At the al Sawha blog site, Josh McLaughlin recounts a storyfrom 2008 when he was in Iraqserving as the Task Force Fire Support Officer in the TOC when a platoon fromhis battalion was hit by a complex attack. Gun runs by OH-58 Kiowas were notenough to run off the insurgents so the soldiers on the ground called in an airstrike on a mosque from which they were taking fire. They decided to drop a 500pound bomb from a pair of F-16s overhead.

"Wechecked and re-checked the engagement location with the ground elements,running their grids through our targeting systems to ensure we were about totarget the correct building (in this case a mosque). After doing this multipletimes, attempting to confirm visually through our sensors, we finally receivedclearance to engage. As the F-16 began its final run-in, we were told by thepowers that be to abort the 500 pound bomb drop. Hellfire strikes from theOH-58s coupled with advancing US and Iraqi elements were able to finally gaincontrol of the situation.

Asthe event culminated, I sat and watched in amazement as the elements on theground cleared a different mosque than the one we had seemingly confirmed adozen times over. The grid my team in the TOC was provided with over and overagain was not the location the ground element was clearing. My Fire Supportersin the TOC took the grid from the ground element and the building descriptionand found a match. What we did not realize is that there were multiple mosquesin the area matching the description, and one of them was too new to be on ournewest and most up-to-date imagery."

AsMcLaughlin writes, there are many different eyes, human and electronic,involved in today's sensor to shooter links. Mistakes can, and will, happen atsome point along that process. It's an important reminder that in today's "warsamongst the people," on battlefields that will always be populated bycivilians, the use of much high-tech weaponry in kinetic strikes can oftenproduce tragic results. 

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