Friday, September 24, 2010

Praxis: IFF -- Identification, Friend or Foe.

The American Attack on Stony Point.

Vanderboegh's Rule # 31: When people are shooting at you, try not to get shot. Getting shot is bad for you and the mission.

Vanderboegh's Rule # 32: When you are trying not to get shot, make sure you don't get shot by your own side. This is not only bad for you, but a waste of ammunition.

Vanderboegh's Rule # 33: Likewise, try not to shoot your own guys. It is bad for the mission and makes you very unpopular.


Uniforms were first developed so the troops on one side could easily identify who to kill and who not to kill. Unfortunately, especially in low light, many uniforms look the same.

At the night attack upon Stony Point, New York in July 1778, American General "Mad Anthony" Wayne crafted a three-prong plan:

1. The smallest force, commanded by Maj. Hardy Murfee, would attack first. They would fire their muskets to create a diversion sufficient to convince the British that the main attack was being delivered up the middle.

2. A silent approach would be made from the south, across the sunken sandbar at Haverstraw Bay. This would compose the largest body of troops, led by Wayne.

3. A second silent approach would occur concurrently from the north, across the bridge at King's Ferry.

The two silent approaches would only use fixed bayonets and pikes. All of their muskets would be unloaded, making sure that an accidental discharge would not happen. The musket fire from the first force would be the signal for the two silent maneuvers to start their approach. They would also wear pieces of white paper in their hats to avoid confusion in the darkness and to be used for visual recognition. Finally, 24 artillerymen would accompany the Light Infantry, so that captured British artillery could be turned against the British gunboat and their other fort at Verplank's Point.


Improvised white strips of cloth tied around an attacker's arm have been used for centuries to help soldiers identify friend from foe in night attacks.



During the Operation Torch landings in North Africa (1942) a flag armband made of oilcloth was issued to all assaulting troops. During the Normandy drop a cloth flag was issued to the 82nd Airborne, although some photos show the earlier oilcloth armband having been cut around the flag and sewn onto the jacket. These were useful when troops were fighting before front lines were established, but the individual soldiers usually discarded them soon after as they were easy for an enemy to spot as well.

Today's military of course have sophisticated Blue Force Tracker electronics to keep track of friendlies, but modern versions of "Mad Anthony's" hats with white paper in them can be found in the "cat's eyes" helmet cover band.



IR & UV cyalume sticks, with or without a holder, can be used at night and seen only by people with night vision devices. It would be a mistake in today's environment to believe that only your side has such devices.



But IFF can be even simpler. Beginning in the early 90s the Crips street gang wore British Knights shoes and took the "BK" logo to indicate "Blood Killer," in reference to the rival gang.



Shoes as identifiers remain popular today with the rival Mexican drug gangs. See this Texas Rangers' PDF analysis of a cartel vs. cartel vs Mexican Army shootout in Nuevo Laredo on 16 July 2010.

Go to Page Six for the photo:

"Many of the subjects appear to have the identical brand/model of shoes, or the same color schemes. This may be an indicator for friendly forces recognition, particularly during surveillance."


Whatever you use for IFF, just remember you will need some method of figuring out at a glance in any light who is your friend and who is trying to kill you. Work it out now, before you need it. Then keep it to yourselves until needed.

4 comments:

J. Croft said...

Lone Wolf fighters are going to have problems if they operate in areas where teams have a system worked out-and they're not in on it.

On the other hand Lone Wolves don't have too much IFF issues beyond their targets and such so long as they avoid fragging innocents. Surest way of getting people on the bench to hug their enemy all the more.

drjim said...

Most excellent advice!

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many are planning on using the gasden flags?

Anonymous said...

Gasden works nicely.

all sorts of existing patches