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Sandia demonstrates Athena tag for preventing tragic battlefield ‘friendly fire’ incidents

Sandia demonstrates Athena tag for preventing tragic battlefield ‘friendly fire’ incidents

Designed to help the military avoid “friendly fire” incidents, the Sandia-created Athena Radar-Responsive Tag was recently tested during Exercise Urgent Quest in the UK.

Sandia, along with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. and Sierra Monolithics, demonstrated Athena during the exercise. Athena was developed with sponsorship from the US Army CERDEC I2WD Division and the US Air Force Air Warfare Battlelab.

During the demonstration, Athena tags were placed on military vehicles participating in the exercises. The tag device, tracked via aircraft radar, can be used to identify both US and coalition forces during combat to avoid fratricide. During war, fratricide is the act of killing one’s own soldiers.

Aircraft radar ‘sees’ friends on ground

Aircraft on bombing runs used their on-board radar systems to ensure there were no friendly troops in their sights. If an Athena-tagged vehicle was present, a unique identifier appeared on the pilot’s screen alerting him to a friendly force in his target area, thereby avoiding a potential friendly fire incident.

“It was very gratifying for the project team to listen in to the combat radio link in real time and hear the pilots describe seeing the Athena tag on their radar screens,” says program manager Lars Wells (5354).

The exercise was a Military Utility Assessment, associated with the Coalition Combat Identification Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration, organized to demonstrate the effectiveness of new technologies in preventing friendly fire, or fratricide.

In preparation for the exercises, the Athena tag had been demonstrated with several US and European aircraft. In addition to combat identification, the tag can be used for “blue force tracking,” a similar but not identical mission.

Sandia project administrator Darick Lewis (5053) says the exercises were intended to evaluate the effectiveness of various technologies in preventing friendly fire.

“Ideally, worthy candidate technologies can be transitioned into final development programs and produced for warfighter use,” he says. “Athena is effective because it uses a fighter aircraft’s existing radar for detection. It is simple, rugged, small, and inexpensive to integrate.”

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., an affiliate of privately held General Atomics, provides comprehensive solutions for military and commercial applications worldwide.