This episode is about military fratricide accidents, also known as friendly fire, blue-on-blue, and the reason why your allies are sometimes scarier than your enemies.
Friendly fire accidents are a prime example why system safety isn’t just an activity for practice and peacetime. When warfighters can’t trust their own weapons or their own allies it puts a serious dent in their operational capability, and that’s generally considered a bad thing. There’s a reason why Wikipedia has a page dedicated specifically for United States Friendly Fire Incidents with British Victims. It’s actually not a long list, but the cultural and strategic impact makes it feel much longer. Blue-on-blue incidents lead to distrust, lack of communication and lack of cooperation. Given that lack of communication and coordination is often cited as a cause of friendly fire, you can probably already picture the cycle of unintentional violence that can spiral from one or two incidents.
At a tactical level, friendly fire incidents occur for one of three reasons:
1) Misidentifying a friendly unit as a valid target;
2) Firing at a location other than intended; or
3) A friendly unit moving into an area where indiscriminate firing is occurring.
Since technology is increasingly being used to help identify targets, aim weapons and navigate, it is inevitable that technology will be complicit in a growing number of friendly fire accidents. In some respects the role of technology in these accidents is similar to medical device failures – accidents would occur at a higher rate without the technology, it just isn’t a perfect solution. This isn’t an excuse not to make the technology better though. In particular, when friendly fire accidents happen because our electronic devices have unexpected failure modes, that’s a sign that better safety analysis has an important role to play.
In this episode we are going to look at three friendly fire incidents. Apart from the use of technology and the nationality of the perpetrators, see if you can spot the common thread.
The episode transcript is available here.