The Skinny on Combat Identification Panels

One of the worst things that can happen on the modern battlefield or any battlefield is a blue on blue (Friendly Fire) kill. Over the years many devices have been tested, adopted, or modified in order to reduce blue on blue incidents. In my opinion, as long as a human is involved in the decision making process on whether or not to shoot we will always have the possibility of having blue on blue engagements or deaths. Such is the nature of War! This can also apply to civilians on the battlefield (non-combatants). Enemy troops and non-combatants don’t carry convenient ID panels that say shoot or don’t shoot so a split decision must be made as to the intent of the individual if you make the wrong decision then someone pays with their life. Even the best systems available can’t distinguish between combatant and non-combatant. This simple fact will always keep the human in the decision making process, and this is where the room for error comes into play. So your only options available are to use the best system to minimize or eliminate casualties to friendly forces, and minimize casualties among the non-combatants.

There are numerous ways that we can attempt to identify friendly forces on the battlefield, the first step in this process is to know the capabilities of your equipment as well as the limitations of your enemy; does he poses thermal or passive sights?? Knowing these simple facts will allow you to select a system. In the U.S. Military we say that, “We own the night.” (U.S. Rangers usually argue that they are the only masters of the night) We, as tankers prefer to use our thermal sights because this gives us the ability to see at extended ranges during all types of weather conditions. The cheap and cost effective way to identify friend from foe through thermal sights is to use some type of thermal recognition panel, aka….CIPS (Combat Identification Panels).

The history of the combat identification panel leads back to a suggestion made by a Captain David Jessup of the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized). Captain Jessup suggested that thermal tape be used for combat identification. His suggestions lead to a decision by the Department of the Army to develop a specific combat identification panel for each type of vehicle platform.

The Combat Identification Panel has one primary component - a flat or venetian style panel approximately (1/8" thick x 24" high x 30" long) covered with a low emissivity thermal tape. The panels are installed flat against the vehicles' exterior shell (with velcro) or placed insided a bracket adapted to hang on the vehicles exterior. CIPs can be mounted in an operational, thermal tape out, or reversed to a nonoperational, Chemical Agent Resistant Coating (CARC) paint side out, mode.

When viewed through FLIR thermal sensors, the CIP shows up as a contrasting cold spot on the hot target image. In the engagement process, a gunner would use this contrast to determine if the targeted vehicle is friendly or unknown. Tests show that the use of CIPs serviceability affect the image gunners see through their thermal sights. The CIP is mounted to provide all aspect coverage, however, terrain features, such as trees and other vegetation, proper defilade firing positions, and other obstacles will break up the thermal image of any vehicle1.

1 Various sources for this report, some information was provided by the briefs presented and Army Technical publications.

  • CIPS (Combat Identification Panels)
  • CIPS (Combat Identification Panels)
  • CIPS (Combat Identification Panels)
  • CIPS (Combat Identification Panels)
  • CIPS (Combat Identification Panels)
  • CIPS (Combat Identification Panels)
  • CIPS (Combat Identification Panels)

About the Author

About Andreas Elesky (Tankleader)

I am primarily an Armor Modeler that is in temporarily separated from his stash. I am a retired United States Marine that is currently working for a major Defense Contractor. Armor models are my passion and I dabble in Aircraft as well. If you have any questions related to Marine Tank or LAV que...


Very intersting !Thanks forsharing that with us !
JUL 12, 2004 - 05:58 AM
Rodger, The FLIR is the preferred sight. The old day channel can stil be used as well as the ballistic reticle. These are mainly used as back ups it the FLIR should fail. Ever crewman is still trainied in visual identiffication of vehicles, even in the thermal channels. Regardless of what electronic gadgets you use it still requires the human to make the final decision. Semper FI Andy
JUL 13, 2004 - 01:34 AM
Yo Andy, I hope that you are being careful over there... Good write up on the CIPs. I should be in your neighborhood this winter, with some friends. Drop me a line at [email protected] and give me the skinny on TTPs and and any other valuable stuff. John
JUL 13, 2004 - 05:48 AM
If only I'd known this during the Abrams ID campaign. Great job showing the differences. I'm not sure, but I didn't really see any info (minus the pictures) of the flat panels on the front of the Abrams. I assuming that they are just flat panels with the thermal tape being the four corner pieces. Anyway, stay safe and watch out for those damn RPG rounds.
JUL 14, 2004 - 05:00 AM
USNavy2534, I'm not sure about this, but from what I gather, the whole rectangular panel is thermal-visible, and the four corner things are just velcro to stick it to the turret. -armorguy-
JUL 14, 2004 - 05:27 AM
Hello Jeff, You are correct Jeff, the corner strips are simple velcro that hold the panel in place. To turn the panel on you reverse it and press it down on the velcro tabs. Most people including the model companies have portrayed these as some sort of frame.. Semper FI Andy
JUL 14, 2004 - 08:50 PM
Also on some tanks the velcro tape is attached as a rectangle around the whole panel, not just on corners. In this case front panels look indeed like they have some sort of frame around them, but it is still just old good velcro. Pawel
JUL 14, 2004 - 10:33 PM
I hope they have something else besides just tape to keep the enemy from duplicating it don't they? There is something classified isn't there? At least I hope so. Kerry
JUL 14, 2004 - 10:44 PM
Hello Kerry, There are many other things, but they tend to be on the expensive side and would require lots of modifications, so this was the most inexpensive and expedient way to field an Identification Friend or Foe to a force operating in the field under wartime conditions. Semper FI Andz
JUL 15, 2004 - 04:31 PM
I always wondered what those panels were. I have some pictures of British armour with CIPS in Iraq during the opening phases of Operation Telic in my gallery. These pics are from the Ministry of Defense site, specifically from Operation Telic. They have some really great shots of Challenger 2s'. Few more pics of Scimitars added on Sept 28th '04 to my gallery.
SEP 13, 2004 - 03:14 AM