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Ukraine conflict: Forces face recognition and tracking challenges

A column of Russian military vehicles leaves the town of Armyansk, northern Crimea, on 24 February. Spray-painted markings have been widely observed on vehicles. (Sergei Malgavko/TASS)

The Russian and Ukrainian militaries engaged in the conflict in Ukraine have several difficulties to overcome around force recognition and tracking, and the so-called ‘fog of war' may hang heavy.

Unverified reports state that the Russian Navy shot down a Russian aircraft over the Black Sea. Given the use of identification friend-or-foe (IFF) transponders, it should be a relatively straightforward task to avoid such incidents. In the land domain, differentiating between friend-or-foe is a significantly more demanding task.

Much of the materiel fielded by the belligerents is of the same type or has a common design lineage. Save for country-specific modifications and markings, it can be challenging to tell the equipment apart, especially at the ranges that engagements with modern weapon systems often take place.

Video footage and imagery emerging from Ukraine has shown attempts to simplify recognition, both on soldiers and vehicles, such as spray-painted markings on Russian vehicles and simple fluorescent armbands worn by Ukrainian forces.

In addition to these rudimentary efforts, however, discipline in following established tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) may play a significant role in limiting incidents of fratricide. For example, armoured vehicles manoeuvring near the front lines are likely to keep barrels pointed in the direction of threat in order to signal their intentions. At the tactical level, units will have their own standard operating procedures for marking their positions, particularly of lead troops and the extreme flanks.

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