NATO’s southern region commander in Afghanistan, Maj Gen Ton Van Loon, Royal Netherlands Army, has confirmed ongoing problems in blue force identification during frontline UAV operations.
He says that NATO southern region command forces are holding back on the use of UAVs in targeting roles without additional verification on blue force locations.
“We are not using UAVs on a regular basis in the frontline unless we are very sure we know where our own troops are.”
The general says: “It is, of course, very hard with a conventional UAV to distinguish between friend or foe, and that’s one of the reasons why we don’t necessarily only rely on the information from the UAV in any circumstances.
“On the other hand…NATO is working very much in establishing very good command and control relationships and very good situational awareness before we go into any kind of operations so that we know where our own troops are; we know where the enemy forces are before we actually use UAVs or any other assets to then go into a lot of detail so we can actually go for targeting.”
The general has also reiterated calls for additional UAV capabilities to be available in theatre. He says that the counter-urgency campaign in Afghanistan remains heavily dependent on airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets “and of course unmanned vehicles are part of that. We are having quite some contributions from the [coalition] nations in the use of UAVs, and we use them extensively to make sure that the troops do not get surprised.
“Of course the development of more of these capabilities would always be welcome. ISR is clearly one of the areas that NATO can develop more of so we can actually have more ISR platforms in the air providing us with better situational awareness in all the areas.”