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A Quick Point On IFF

There are some things that I noticed quickly in the current war in Ukraine. One of them is that there were multiple instance of friendly fire occurring among both military and unorganized militias. Ukrainians firing on their own thinking that they were Russian, civilians unsure who is who, firing on others unsure if they're pro Russia or pro Ukraine, Russians in civilian clothing to evade detection in plain sight, etc.

One thing that a lot will notice quickly was that both Russian and Ukrainian SOF will wear Multicam. There are differences in equipment that the two use, but from a distance it can be difficult to see exactly what equipment is being used, especially since both countries are generally using eastern bloc weapons and knock offs of western gear (both Russia and Ukraine have Crye AVS copies that they use frequently).

While conventional troops are wearing different patterns and using standard issue equipment that is different, it can still be hard to tell when you're tired, hungry, stressed, and everyone is covered in the same dirt from the same battlefield. This is why you are seeing different colored armbands, bands across helmets, and other high vis indicators that are color coded to determine who is who. Also giant letters on vehicles and other methods of IFF (Identification of Friendly Forces).

Now you can get into the weeds of it and decide that the takeaway for your group is to outfit everyone in a super specific camouflage that is not widely used, so that you will be unique on the battlefield. While this is one method, you'll notice that there have always been friendly fire incidents in combat, and even among uniformed troops that are wearing their unique country's camouflage. This shows that that is not a foolproof system alone. Not only this, but there is a point of diminishing return, where you have some pattern that works great for concealment, is unique, and you like it, but it's difficult to get from a wide variety of manufacturers, or you have to import it from another country.

If you look at footage of Russian troops (primarily SOF) in different cities, both across Russia fighting domestic terrorists, and in Ukraine, you'll notice that oftentimes they're wearing solid color jackets with high vis armbands. Their concern is no longer with camouflage, since in many urban environments you're relying on hard cover as both cover and concealment. You can wear a bright pink jumpsuit and if you're behind a wall, nobody on the other side will see you.

What are the takeaways then? The main takeaway I see is that this circle of people that are spread across the country and sometimes across borders should have different forms of IFF to determine who is in your immediate group, and who is in the same team. Uniform color and equipment or key indicators can show who's in your group. US SOF in Syria would often wear rolled up black flags on their armor partially for IFF purposes.

METT-TC will dictate when it's useful to have overt methods of ID and when it is not. Do not get wrapped around in absolutes. The fighting in urban environments and woodland environments varies heavily, and there are times where it is advantageous to be able to see your buddies from 200 yards away and identify that they're on your side, and when it is advantageous to stay hidden and not be identified as a combatant, let alone whose side you're on.

Feel free to discuss in the comments, and check out the Longhouse on Instagram and Telegram.

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