Electronic Weapons: JSTARS Gets BFT

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January 27, 2006: Three years after its spectacular debut during the invasion of Iraq, the air force has installed Blue Force Tracker (BFT) in its JSTARS (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems) aircraft. JSTARS has a powerful radar that shows all vehicle activity on the ground for hundreds of kilometers in every direction. But until the BFT equipment was installed, the JSTARS radar operators had no sure way of knowing who was friendly, or enemy, except via radio reports of where the good guys were supposed to be. BFT uses a transponder in each ground vehicle and helicopter, that sends position data via a satellite communications system. Thus everyone with a BFT display (a laptop with a satellite data connection) can see where everyone (with a working transponder) is. The U.S. Air Force has, over the last three months, installed BFT capability in five JSTARS aircraft, at a cost of about a million dollars per installation. BFT is actually just a part of the army's "Battle Management Command and Control Systems Division" (or FBCB2, for short), and the army wants the JSTARS to be tied in with a lot of other FBCB2 feature. The delay in getting BFT to JSTARS had a lot to do with needed upgrades for BFT (it got real slow when there were a lot of transponders out there), and the air force needing to nail down exactly how they were going to use the BFT data.

BFT and JSTARS were both designed, in part, to reduce friendly fire losses. Both have done so, although BFT has contributed a lot more in that department. That's probably because 90 percent of friendly fire attacks are two ground units firing on each other. Only ten percent involve aircraft hitting friendlies. The combination of BFT and JSTARS will reduce friendly fire losses even more.

 


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