Artillery: May 4, 2003


Sometimes the lessons of combat take a long time to get sorted out and attended to. A good example was the discovery, during the 1991 Gulf War, that the Firefinder counterbattery radar (used to spot incoming enemy fire and calculate where it was coming from so "counterbattery" fire could be directed at it) often picked up incoming fire that wasn't there. This wasn't noticed during the war itself, as there was no way to check if any sighting was a false one. But once there was a ceasefire, any Firefinder radar spotting "incoming fire" was looking at a potential ceasefire violation. After the ceasefire went into effect, there were about ten false Firefinder sightings per week. All had to be checked out, to see if the coalition was going to go back to war with Iraq because of real violations. But all these Firefinder reports proved to be false. The problems with Firefinder and false reports had been known for years, and the cause was thought to be a combination of software flaws and inadequately trained Firefinder radar operators. By the late 1990s, the Firefinder software had gone through several upgrades to eliminate, or at least cut back on, the false reports. Training for the Firefinder operators was changed to include more material about false reports from the radar. Experience in Afghanistan and Iraq 2003 indicates that the problem still exists, but not as much as before.


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