On the streets of a simulated city, men wearing combat uniforms showed off a new battlefield accessory that its makers say could ultimately keep troops safe from "friendly fire."
The new tool, about the size of a wristwatch, doesn't look as impressive as its price tag.
The device works like a high-end laser tag but, along with its radio component, cost millions to develop and goes well beyond the realm of any video game.
As San Diego-based Cubic Corp. demonstrated its new product Thursday, Vice President of Advanced Programs Steve Sampson explained how it works.
The tags are small and light enough that they can be weaved into uniforms or placed inside helmet covers.
Once a switch on the side of a weapon is activated, within seconds the system can tell the soldier the range to a target and flash the word “friend” inside the scope if the target has one of the system's high-tech tags.
"If I know where my friends are, situational awareness, and I can tell if a target in the crosshairs is a friend, I have combat identification," said Sampson. "That's never been done before."
If a tag is captured by the enemy, it would go inoperative without the “code of the day” used by troops for all their tactical radios.
“The ability to distinguish friend from foe is something that’s really intriguing,” said veteran Ed Chapin, a San Diego attorney who watched Thursday’s demo. “It can help save casualties and that’s very important.”
Attorney Tim Lickness, a Vietnam veteran, said he witnessed at least four incidents involving friendly fire during his time in combat. The guilt carried by troops involved can be a real morale buster he said.
“If we can avoid that, that’s huge,” Lickness said.
The new product was taken into the field in October used by multiple service branches.
“When they’re done using it, they have given the company the ultimate compliment asking ‘Can I keep it?’” Sampson said.
Sampson said there are other potential uses for local law enforcement and paramilitary units but the company’s first priority is to get its new product out to U.S. troops.