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The Human Factors of Fratricide

The Human Factors of Fratricide by Laura A. Rafferty, Neville A. Stanton, and Guy H. Walker. Ashgate Publishing, 2012, 256 pp.

The Human Factors of Fratricide is a scholarly work that seeks to apply a rigorously scientific and statistical methodology to the serious and growing problem of “friendly fire” within modern Western militaries. Specifically, asymmetrical warfare has adversely affected allied troops’ communication and coordination of fire, resulting in injury and death. To provide the maximum amount of analysis, the book focuses on a small number of case studies taken from the British Royal Army and Royal Air Force, examining them in great depth.

This book’s organization is straightforward, beginning with a short introduction about the problem of fratricide before moving into an explanation of the importance of teamwork and communication. It then applies the “famous five of fratricide,” the most important human factors of fratricide in the existing literature (cooperation, coordination, schema, situational awareness, and communication), to a specific case study of a tank operation. Subsequently, the coauthors discuss the Fratricide Event Analysis of Systemic Teamwork (FEAST), an approach they use to gain the deepest possible insight into the interaction of factors that leads to either success (no friendly fire incidents and the elimination of enemy targets) or failure (friendly fire incidents and the survival of enemy targets) in a given mission. Two chapters address situations in which more communication is better (a small team with a focused mission) and in which more communication can create difficulties (a large, dispersed group of teams engaged in a complicated mission). The book closes by asking whether it is always better to be connected (offering some nuanced conclusions), by making a detailed comparison of the models based on the case studies, and by recommending further research that would confirm the coauthors’ ideas about fratricide.

The book’s discussion of the importance of accurate communication and high situational awareness when dealing with close air support (a major aspect of one of the case studies) and of combined task force teams will be of considerable interest to Air Force audiences. One should note, however, that this work is extremely technical and filled with academic jargon, perhaps limiting it to readers able to grasp the systems-driven vocabulary. Fortunately, the generous number of graphs and other figures helps the audience visualize points raised by the coauthors.

Some of the study’s conclusions are striking and worthy of analysis outside the narrow problem of fratricide, including the fact that in avoiding fratricide, it appears that the quality of teamwork is more important than the quantity of team activities. Similarly, the avoidance of negative factors seems more significant than the presence of positive ones within the operation of the team. Furthermore, Rafferty, Stanton, and Walker find the avoidance of nonessential communication a major and consistent element of successful operations, given the tendency of information overload in high-stress, shoot/no-shoot decision-making processes. Strikingly, they argue on the one hand that a hierarchical organization works best in small teams, which need a high degree of cohesion to produce successful missions. On the other hand, a large and disbursed team was hurt by hierarchy and substantial cohesion (which often led to the development of cliques). Greater intergroup communication and a more disbursed, egalitarian approach worked best in complicated missions with teams of teams pursuing a wide range of challenging tasks while working cooperatively. The coauthors bolster their solutions with rigorous statistical and systems analysis as well as numerous references to the literature.

Again, prospective readers should be aware of the book’s technical language and use of statistical and analytical techniques neither widely nor generally known. Despite the coauthors’ attempts at statistical rigor, they depend rather heavily on the insights and views of subject-matter experts (trainers for the case study exercises chosen here). Moreover, one finds a surprising divergence between the communication of effective and ineffective teams engaging in the same training missions chosen as case studies. Readers seeking to emulate success and avoid failure will find much to ponder here. In light of the vital importance of reducing friendly fire in the modern battlefield, The Human Factors of Fratricide deserves careful consideration and further research.

Nathan Albright

Portland, Oregon

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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