On July 20, at Fort Bliss, an M1A2 Abrams Tank accidentally fired upon another tank during a training exercise. The Defence Blog was the first to report the incident, claiming that an M1A2 Abrams shot a round that impacted another tank 2,600 meters away. The incident took place during a tank qualification training exercise.
According to the Defence Blog, because it was a training exercise, the tanks were shooting the M1002 multi-purpose training round. The benefit of this round is that it behaves just like its combat counterpart, the M830A1, but has a shorter range, ideally making it a safer round for training.
During this specific exercise, the tanks were shooting at moving targets. The two tanks that were involved in the accident were from the same cavalry regiment.
One soldier was injured. According to Lt. Col. Lindsey Elder, an Army Public Affairs Officer, the soldier received comprehensive combat wound treatment from his fellow soldiers and is now recovering in stable condition.
In an email response to Military Times, Elder claimed that the 1st Armored Division is conducting an investigation and there will be no further comment until the investigation is complete.
Looking back, one of the worst U.S. Army tank friendly fire incidents took place during the Persian Gulf War.
On the dark early morning of February 27, the Army’s 3rd Brigade was engaging units of an Iraqi Republican Guard Armored division as it pushed ahead in southern Iraq. The U.S. tanks in the front of the column made contact with Iraqi units, firing rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and small-arms at the Iraqi tanks. Due to the thick armor of the tanks, the RPG rounds were exploding harmlessly on the tanks’ sides.
As the U.S. Army units were pressing on, they were surrounded by Iraqi Republican Guard troops that were hiding in trenches. The U.S. tanks were exposed to a heavy barrage of enemy fire. Fortunately, the enemy attack proved to be no match for the U.S. armor. Yet, the tanks that were one to two miles back in the column, were observing these events through thermal sights. To them, the RPGs exploding on the outside of the U.S. M1A1 Abrams tanks looked like cannon fire from enemy tanks.
Instead of waiting to be hit by incoming rounds, the M1A1 tank crews began firing in the direction of the bursting explosions, not realizing they were firing upon their own forces. The end result was gruesome and tragic. Six U.S. soldiers lost their lives, 25 soldiers were wounded, five M1A1s and five Bradley Fighting Vehicles were destroyed. In total, 21 U.S. soldiers were killed during the Gulf War.
Friendly fire is a tragic consequence of high-risk training and engagement with the enemy. Of course, great measures are taken to mitigate friendly fire incidents, but unfortunately, it is an inherent risk when waging war.