JSTARS, the American airborne radar system, was one of the wonder weapons of the 1991 Gulf War, giving generals a birds eye view of friendly and enemy vehicles on the ground. One problem was that all those little blips were not identified as friendly or enemy. Now the JSTARS radar software is being modified to show clearly which vehicles are definitely friendly. The JSTARS aircraft, which carries a radar that can detect moving vehicles on the ground, is having army's Blue Force Tracker (BFT) monitoring software installed. BFT is a system that has one or more armored vehicles in each battalion and company carrying a BFT transmitter and receiver. The BFT equipment is a basically a satellite telephone link that shows all BFT users, on a computer screen, where all BFT transmitters are. BFT was used with great success in Afghanistan, and the 2003 Iraq campaigns.
BFT will allow the JSTARS aircraft to identify vehicles that are not being identified as blue forces and are probably enemy. The air force is also testing the installation of BFT receivers in its bombers, which would make it easier to see where the good guys are, and avoid friendly fire incidents.
Ultimately, as part of current networking upgrades throughout the military, the air force wants its bombers to get, on demand, automatic data transfers from AWACS, JSTARS, ground based radar and other sources. But the technology is improving, and being installed, so rapidly, that the traditional long term planning and procurement system no longer works. Thus the effort to see if the BFT equipment could be quickly integrated with the JSTARS software and computer displays. It worked, and the JSTARS operators were very enthusiastic about it. The pilots want it as well. The air force is not eager to spend more money on this at the moment, because of the high cost of getting the F-22 and F-35 built. But if the friendly fire prevention aspect of the air force using BFT becomes a big media item, that would probably change.