Avoiding Friendly Fire in Close Air Support: Strategies and Challenges

Isla Davis

Updated Sunday, April 14, 2024 at 10:38 PM CDT

Avoiding Friendly Fire in Close Air Support: Strategies and Challenges

Coordinating Attacks and Identifying Friendlies

Close air support missions require precise coordination between ground personnel and pilots to avoid hitting friendly ground forces. One of the key strategies to prevent friendly fire is to only attack targets in areas where there are no friendly units, typically behind the frontline. This ensures that the risk of hitting friendly forces is minimized.

To effectively coordinate attacks, close air support involves having people on the ground communicate with the pilot. This communication allows for the identification of friendly and enemy units, ensuring that strikes are accurately directed. Ground personnel play a crucial role in providing real-time information about the location of friendly forces relative to the target.

Identification Methods and Tools

Various methods and tools are used to identify enemy positions and differentiate between friendlies and enemies. Colored smoke signals are a simple yet efficient way to mark enemy positions. Ground personnel throw smoke grenades with colored smoke, and the pilot confirms the spot based on the color. To prevent the enemy from deploying the correct smoke, the color used is not disclosed.

In addition to colored smoke, GPS coordinates are used to pinpoint the exact location of the enemy. This allows pilots to accurately direct their attacks. Laser designators also play a significant role in guiding bombs to their targets. By pointing a laser at the desired location, pilots can guide the bombs with precision.

Furthermore, infrared beacons that flash can be used on troops to differentiate between friendly and enemy forces, particularly when there is a significant difference in technological capabilities. This helps pilots identify friendly forces even without visual cues.

Challenges and Solutions

Identifying friendlies from the air poses several challenges. Without visual clues, it is impossible for pilots to discern friendly from enemy ground forces. Pilots heavily rely on information from instruments, intelligence, air traffic control, and radio communications to maintain situational awareness.

To address the challenge of limited visibility, advanced attack aircraft like the F15E are equipped with targeting pods that have powerful cameras. These cameras provide an improved view, reducing the risk of friendly fire. Additionally, joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) play a vital role in communication. They provide pilots with crucial information about the location of friendly forces relative to the target and give restrictions to avoid targeting friendlies.

The consolidated communication process known as the 9 line ensures that everything is clear and understood before weapons are released. This process helps minimize the chances of mistakes and instances of friendly fire. However, it is important to note that despite these identification methods and communication protocols, mistakes and instances of friendly fire can still occur in close air support missions.


Avoiding friendly fire in close air support missions is a complex task that requires effective coordination, communication, and the use of various identification methods and tools. The primary focus of pilots is to ensure the identification of friendly forces before releasing weapons. Through the collaboration between ground personnel and pilots, the risk of friendly fire can be minimized, ensuring the safety and success of close air support missions.

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