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February 6, 2007 3:59 AM   Subscribe

Footage of the 'friendly fire' incident [Embedded wmv 15m20s] in which Lance Corporal of Horse Matty Hull was killed is obtained by The Sun. The inquest into L/Cpl Hull's death, earlier suspended in part because of failure to release the video, will now go ahead. Direct link to video stream Discussion on UK forces' message board
posted by Abiezer (95 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 


The video in an embedded Flash player.
posted by Abiezer at 4:06 AM on February 6, 2007


Anyone know what the term "BINGO" means? One of the jets mentions to the commander that the other is "BINGO" -- does that mean he's running low on fuel, or is that some USAF term like "snafu"?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:45 AM on February 6, 2007


In the SNES version of Super Strike Eagle, BINGO FUEL was the sample played when you were out of gas. So maybe that's it.
posted by mkb at 4:45 AM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


So the Pilots mistook the orange panels for rockets on top of the vehicles they attacked and where mislead by some hotel clerk into believing that there was no friendly units.

Perhaps taking advice of Holiday Inn staff would have been more appropriate.

Seriously though, where these guys just doing their jobs? I cant imagine its easy to distinguish things on the ground when your flying past at 200mph at 300m (A10s dont fly very quickly or very high up).
posted by 13twelve at 4:50 AM on February 6, 2007


mkb is correct. In aviator lingo, bingo is the "minimum fuel for a comfortable and safe return to base. Aircraft can fly and fight past bingo fuel in combat situations, but at considerable peril."
posted by RichardP at 4:51 AM on February 6, 2007




define:Bingo in google gives:
a prebriefed amount of fuel that would allow a safe return to the base of intended landing. Bad weather would force higher "bingo fuel" amounts. A radio call of "bingo fuel" would lead to an RTB.
posted by nielm at 4:52 AM on February 6, 2007


13twelve - some of the anger evident in the discussion on that army message board is because those orange panels are there to stop such incidents, and the feeling is having spotted them and then asked if friendlies were in the area, the pilots should not have proceeded to attack without better confirmation that they had a hostile target. Similar discussion on a forum for RAF pilots.
posted by Abiezer at 4:57 AM on February 6, 2007


13twelve: I cant imagine its easy to distinguish things on the ground when your flying past

If you can't get positive identification of a vehicle, firing an anti-tank Gatling gun at it doesn't seem like a very fucking good idea, eh?

They were told by their forward air controllers that there were no friendlies in the area, but they saw the orange panels on top, which identify friendly armour. The video shows them talking each other into believing that they are bright orange rockets, instead.
posted by matthewr at 4:59 AM on February 6, 2007


Lance Corporal Matty Hull's death is, of course a tragedy. As are all the deaths on all sides. But, from the point of view of the American administration, the video shows the American pilots in a relatively good light. These were no cowboys shooting up everything they could see. They were calm and reasonably methodical. And when their error became clear, their remorse was clearly evident.

Were procedures not followed? (Possibly, though the pilots themselves seemed to be acting reasonably - apart from one crucial detail). Were the pilots guilty of seeing what they wanted to see -- orange rocket launchers -- rather than what they really were seeing: friendly identifiers? Possibly, though who knows what that stuff really looks like from the air at 500 mph?

It seems to me that, on balance, they would have been better off to have released this tape and let the coroner and the due process take its course.
posted by freddles at 5:00 AM on February 6, 2007


I am surprised this has taken so long to be resolved. The guy was killed in 2003.

Canadians will remember a similar situation, the Tarnak Farm incident, where 4 Canadian soldiers were killed when American jets dropped bombs on them while they were conducting live-fire exercises.
posted by toftflin at 5:03 AM on February 6, 2007


If you can't tell the difference between orange rocket launchers and light tanks with orange panels on top while flying at low level at high speed, you probably shouldn't be flying an aircraft designed to fly at low level at high speed and attack ground vehicles.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:04 AM on February 6, 2007


They were flying at 12,000 ft, and the A-10 is a slow aircraft.

Most informed commenters on the informal RAF and Army message boards linked above take the view that the pilots are not entirely responsible — communication failures and lax rules of engagement contributed to this, as did the MoD's failure to install IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) equipment on the Scimatars.
posted by matthewr at 5:08 AM on February 6, 2007


Wiki is up to date on developments, as well as giving more background.
For a bit of grim comic relief, some thick sub-editor at AP or USA Today is unaware that the 'Horse' is part of L/Cpl Hull's rank, not his nickname.
posted by Abiezer at 5:11 AM on February 6, 2007


Seriously though, where these guys just doing their jobs? I cant imagine its easy to distinguish things on the ground when your flying past at 200mph at 300m (A10s dont fly very quickly or very high up).

At orange topped vehicles in an environment where orange means ABSOLUTELY DO NOT FIRE? When there's no verification of locations other than in general terms?
posted by vbfg at 5:13 AM on February 6, 2007


They just played the audio on the 1 o'clock BBC Radio news.

The US, I notice, doesn't seem to have a problem releasing cockpit video that shows their pilots blowing up brown people.
But for some reason this was classified, top-secrest footage.

Hooray, for once, for The Sun.
posted by Flashman at 5:14 AM on February 6, 2007


The guy saw the orange panels, originally identified them as orange panels, knows that orange panels mean friendly forces, and still fires on the vehicles. Exactly how is that not him fucking up beyond belief?
posted by MattWPBS at 5:14 AM on February 6, 2007


But, from the point of view of the American administration, the video shows the American pilots in a relatively good light.

It could be spun that way to people not prepared to more than five seconds thought into it, that's for sure.

And when their error became clear, their remorse was clearly evident.

It is? I heard people wondering out loud what the consequences for themselves would be. Maybe they were remourseful, in fact I'm sure they were, but all the evidence we have from that tape points to a bunch of people who've just shot at a target they momentarily questioned the validity of and their subsequent realisation of an increase in paperwork. IMHO, of course.
posted by vbfg at 5:18 AM on February 6, 2007


Orange rocket launchers? Using an orange rocket launcher would seem like a good way to become a dead insurgent.
posted by Optamystic at 5:20 AM on February 6, 2007


That message board link's been merged into another thread. Link is now here.
posted by MattWPBS at 5:20 AM on February 6, 2007


Optamystic: This is five days after the invasion began, long before the post-war clusterfsck.
posted by vbfg at 5:22 AM on February 6, 2007


They said "god bless" which has a cruel irony to it given how brits often use it sarcastically to imply a level of childish incompetence.
posted by srboisvert at 5:25 AM on February 6, 2007


OK, replace "insurgent" with "soldier". Still not the best colour to be waving at hostile jets.
posted by Optamystic at 5:26 AM on February 6, 2007


Pilot errors, poor communication, poor training, poor collaboration between UK and US forces...

The one person who doesn't have any blame here is Lance Corporal Matty Hull. Rest in Peace.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:28 AM on February 6, 2007


Isn't it great to know that your allies are even more dangerous then your actual enemy?
posted by homodigitalis at 5:28 AM on February 6, 2007


There are no hostile jets. This is *total* air superiority. Lacking electronic aids, which for some reason they all appear to, bright colours that stand out seem to be the best thing to use.

That way you can laugh at people who, knowing orange means ABSOLUTELY DO NOT FIRE, choose to attack targets that bear orange in some way, that do not at all match the description of their mission (which included flat bed trucks) and which are heading north along the major axis of advance within days of the beginning of the invasion.

You are right about orange in one respect though. If there is any country anywhere in the world that fields orange rockets in a combat situation, which is what these pricks are suggesting they are seeing, then they need invading and having the errors of their ways carefully spelling out to them.
posted by vbfg at 5:32 AM on February 6, 2007


I heard people wondering out loud what the consequences for themselves would be.
I heard only one overt mention of anything close to this. At one point, a flyer says "We're in jail, dude". Regardless, I'd say anyone in such a position is going to have a moment where the consequences of their actions come to the fore. Only the coldest of serial killers would have no such thoughts.

... but all the evidence we have from that tape points to a bunch of people who've just shot at a target they momentarily questioned the validity of and their subsequent realisation of an increase in paperwork.
Wow. I can't see how you get that from the video. I got the impression the pilots were very much upset and remorseful for what happened. Yeah, they also seemed to understand that they were going to be in deep shit about it, but I definitely got the feeling they were very upset for having killed friendlies. I really don't think they were spewing words like "fuck me dead" all over the place because they were looking at additional paperwork.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:32 AM on February 6, 2007


Lance Corporal Matty Hull's death is, of course a tragedy. As are all the deaths on all sides.

Heh, really? I don't see the deaths of Taliban soldiers as 'a tragedy.'
posted by chlorus at 5:32 AM on February 6, 2007


Did I say "laugh"? I meant "shoot".
posted by vbfg at 5:33 AM on February 6, 2007


Wow. I can't see how you get that from the video

I'm filling in the blanks, just the same as anyone who says they're clearly remoursful. All they effectively say in that tape is "fuck" over and over again.
posted by vbfg at 5:35 AM on February 6, 2007


Did anyone mention over eager hoo hah cowboy fuckheads who can't get a grip on the color ORANGE?

No. Well then there you go.
posted by Skygazer at 5:36 AM on February 6, 2007


Heh, really? I don't see the deaths of Taliban soldiers as 'a tragedy.'

No?
posted by atrazine at 5:37 AM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you see orange, and you can't identify the type of vehicle you're targeting, let alone its identity, and it's irrelevant to your mission, and you're up in the sky in a wholly one-sided war, and you still choose to fire, it's your fault. Even if you are given duff information. These men were simply too eager to shoot something.
posted by Arcaz Ino at 5:38 AM on February 6, 2007


The US, I notice, doesn't seem to have a problem releasing cockpit video that shows their pilots blowing up brown people.

I propose a rule, similar to Godwin's Law, about the invoking of brown people in an online discussion. There are two parts:

1. As an online discussion, particularly one on Metafilter, grows longer, the probability that some douche will bring up "brown people" approaches one.

2. As soon as said douche employs said "brown people" terminology, that portion of the debate is immediately concluded and lost by said douche.
posted by thirteenkiller at 5:43 AM on February 6, 2007


Yeah, I think if the victim here was black it wouldn't have made a huge difference.
posted by Arcaz Ino at 5:45 AM on February 6, 2007


I don't ever remember seeing orange rocket launchers in any of my AFV recognition courses. Of course I was armoured so maybe they save the GI Joe/Cobra equipment for the airforce AFV courses. Orange, how much more untactical can you get?
posted by furtive at 5:58 AM on February 6, 2007


Everyone sees what they want to see in this kind of thing.
posted by smackfu at 6:05 AM on February 6, 2007


The BBC site is reporting that the coroner (the official in charge of determining cause of death) in this case will not have his contract renewed.

I'd be interested to know who leaked this to the Sun — the coroner's office, the MoD or an American (less likely). The MoD has a reputation as a leaky department. Whoever it was, they won't have a job for very much longer.
posted by matthewr at 6:14 AM on February 6, 2007


Though the fact that his contract won't be renewed isn't necessarily related to this.
posted by matthewr at 6:27 AM on February 6, 2007


I can't help but wonder if pilots who blow up an Iraqi wedding party instead of soldiers or insurgents or other hostiles feel such "remorse").
posted by leftcoastbob at 6:33 AM on February 6, 2007



(Something of a derail, I realize, maybe just adding to the noise. But my two cents nonetheless.)

At least as far back as Big Mistake #2, aviators were somewhat defensive about the difficulty of visually IDing friendlies on the ground while flying tactically. In his memoir The Brass Ring, Bill Mauldin memorably described how a Army Air Force P-51 pilot got mighty pi$$ed off when Mauldin heard about & mouthed off w/in said pilot's earshot concerning a friendly-fire air/ground incident much like this one. The Mustang driver "treated" him to an orientation flight that wasn't so much meant to point out the difficulty of spotting those little ol' bitty orange marker panels from 1,500 feet at 400 mph as to get Mauldin to vomit as early, often and violently as possible.

The flip side of that defensiveness may well stem from the sobering realization of how horrifyingly easy it can be to screw up and kill the wrong people. I've seen tape from an AH-64 (attack helo) during Desert Storm that engaged and destroyed a US M-113 APC that wasn't where any coalition vehicles or personnel were expected, and in the audio, as the pilot realizes what they've done, the anguish is immediate and manifest -- he sounds like he's close to tears, nausea, or both.

It's understandable, though. From the ranges at which attack aircraft (even helicopters) typically engage, it's challenging at times to know for sure what you've got -- as the pilot or weps guy (or gal), your view of your (potential) target is often fleeting, poorly defined, distant, impressionistic, and nothing at all like the "beauty shots" you see in the movies, your intel can be incomplete, old, or just plain wrong, and your stress level is thru the roof as you're trying to do your thing in an environment where a guy you can't really see could be down there with a MANPAD or even a lousy RPG or an AK that could ruin your whole day -- the stress and distraction add considerably to your cognitive load.

It's nothing at all like sniping, where you (ideally) spend a long, careful time studying your target from concealment. Or a video game with great graphics that you can "zoom" and freeze and replay exactly the same way if you're not sure the first time.

You have intel that there's Bad Guys in a certain place, and you can't take all day having a look-see to make sure they're who you think they are. During a paintball game, I shot a teammate because (a) we were all wearing the similar cammies and gear (b) in a less-than-well-lit, cluttered environment, (c) while I was under intermittent fire myself, (d) when said teammate appeared somewhere I hadn't been briefed to expect friendlies.

So -- it's comparatively easy to "Monday morning quarterback" (second-guess after the fact) these "blue-on-blue" (UKers call 'em "own goal") incidents, but I bet they've been happening as far back as cavemen were throwing rocks and spears, and all the IFF transponders and orange marker panels in the world aren't going to obviate adrenaline entirely.
posted by pax digita at 6:43 AM on February 6, 2007


Friendly fire represent bout 13-20 percent of all deaths in combat. I don't imagine the fact that it's common makes it any easier to deal with, but, when you send people off to war, some of them are going to accidentally kill the wrong people.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:34 AM on February 6, 2007


This thread has illuminated the underlying cause of these incidents for me, inasmuch as I now realise there is a substantial body of opinion which doesn't really care that much whether its airforce is competent and professional or not, or who it shoots at.

All I can say is, thank God the Air Force never managed to get off its behind on 9/11; otherwise there would have been an even bigger hole in New York.
posted by Phanx at 7:53 AM on February 6, 2007



This thread has illuminated the underlying cause of these incidents for me, inasmuch as I now realise there is a substantial body of opinion which doesn't really care that much whether its airforce is competent and professional or not, or who it shoots at.

All I can say is, thank God the Air Force never managed to get off its behind on 9/11; otherwise there would have been an even bigger hole in New York.


Christ, you're an asshole.
posted by Snyder at 8:01 AM on February 6, 2007


pax digita: Roger that.
Astro Zombie: Those numbers sound a bit high for this particular conflict. If you are referring to past engagements or world wide stats, I can go with that.

Almost every accident, this one included is due to a series of relatively small errors in action or judgment. With hindsight these errors become increasingly clear in light of their combined effect. In order to fully understand this or any other accident one must endeavor to view it from point of view of each individual’s point of view and try to understand the information and choices at hand.

The stress level in combat is extreme. The work hours are insane, fatigue is always a factor. Choices are not always as clear as you would like for them to be. Ambiguity, uncertainty and robust cat herding chaos are part and parcel of combat operations. Text books are great for the classroom and we train so that our actions and judgment reflect a well thought out plan. However, the first thing to go to shit in a firefight is the plan. Jackie Stewart once said “If you feel like you are in complete control, you aren’t going fast enough.” That quote has some bearing on the edge and pressure to succeed when engaging in combat.

Several factors IMHO contributed to this incident. The pilots were on day seven of probably 4 to 5 hours sleep a day, if they were lucky. Marine cobra pilots during the same period in the same theatre of operations whom I know were sleeping on the ground next to their birds and catching 1 to 2 hours here and there. These A-10 pilots were at the leading edge of a rapidly evolving battle line, at the end of a 2 hour mission. It appears that their intention was to apply additional ordinance before the combat window was closed due to fuel. By the way, go look at anything from two miles away and tell me what you see. These guys tend not to linger too close to targets too long because it attracts bullets and I can assure you no pilot wants to walk home. As for the color of what these guys thought they ID as rockets. The Iraqi forces from the beginning fought an unconventional war. They had little choice given their military strength. If I thought painting my missiles orange would confuse the enemy and provide a tactical advantage you bet your ass I would paint them day glow. Read Sun Tsu, The Art of War.

The pilots used a latitude line to verify and establish that only hostiles were in the area north of their operating position. Somewhere there was a breakdown in the chain between ground force liaisons and air control. No one is likely to suggest the British officer or comm. guy in charge of his mission is at partial fault for not properly relaying his location and that command elements failed to deliver to the air op controller current location of all ground forces. That just wouldn’t be cricket, now would it? Such a failure is hardly surprising given that the battle line was rapidly evolving and initiative and opportunity can accelerate movements without command and control elements being fully advised. Seizing initiative and opportunity is often times fundamental to winning battles and completing successful missions. I believe their decision to engage was ultimately driven by a closing window to engage and to prevent what they thought were hostile elements from reaching the cover of a village. Mistakes were made, shit happens, war sucks, human beings die and that is sad. I had a quote from Plato inscribed on my helmet. “Only the dead see the end of war.” Those left with the reflection of the consequences of their actions live with it every day. You do the best you can, but some times, in spite of everything you are the cluster fuck.
posted by MapGuy at 8:02 AM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Friendly fire is a fact of warfare, of course and I'm sure it's easy to sit here and judge. But this is a bogus war that's accomplishing nothing but screwing ourselves further. With that in mind this blue on blue is even MORE tragic.

That being said, if I'm to understand correctly, these guys had a.) Completed their mission and b.) Were risking their Bingo status (i.e., lives, training and expensive planes) to get one last shot in, c.) They were unclear as to whether they were looking at friendlies, with d.) orange ordinance and e.) Clearly marked coalition vehicles (not to mention certain makes of vehicles).

f.) It took a long time to get confirmation and g.) Couldn't they just strafe the side of the road and see if they got a "cease fire" call. h.) They didn't have to go and just blow them away did they?? (Even if the vehicles were headed towards a village.)

i.) The vehicles were traveling in an orderly and disciplined formation. Personally if those A-10's weren't on my side and buzzing above my ( well kept and modern AMERICAN or BRITISH MADE) vehicle, I would not be driving so straight and true in an even formation. That shit only happens in video games where the deaths are you know fake. j.) A-10's are built to kill tanks and vehicles on the ground, There's got to be a state of the art powerful video system on board to get a tight and stable vantage on your target.

Like I said: Over-eager, chuckleheaded, cowboy hoo hahs...
posted by Skygazer at 8:09 AM on February 6, 2007


Christ, you're an asshole

Yes, but not a complacent asshole.
posted by Phanx at 8:16 AM on February 6, 2007


Yes, but not a complacent asshole.

Yes, I'm sure you're running out right now to re-write the entire pilot training regime, along with iron-clad ROE, to make sure that all pilots are god-like creatures incabable of making mistakes.

There's got to be a state of the art powerful video system on board to get a tight and stable vantage on your target.

Nah, I think they fly looking backwards and use iron sights. But considering you know as little about A-10s as I do, we're both talking out of our asses.
posted by Snyder at 8:26 AM on February 6, 2007


I'd be interested to know who leaked this to the Sun — the coroner's office, the MoD or an American - MatthewR

You missed one - the British government. There were plenty people in government who wanted this in the open, Harriet Harman for one.

It seems the only people who didn't want it released were the American government/military (cause hiding the tape from the inquest will improve IDing friendlies in battle ??? dumb fucks).
posted by Shave at 8:29 AM on February 6, 2007


The key point of this story is not the culpability of the pilots or their controllers, far more pertinent is that US forces fired on and killed allies then declined submission of the evidence to the inquest into the deaths. In this they continued a policy of not assisting in inquiries into these friendly fire incidents. After initially claiming no video evidence existed, the US military than refused to make it available for the inquest. It's taken illicit action by the Sun newspaper to bring this video into the public domain. Is that appropriate behaviour amongst allies?
posted by biffa at 8:32 AM on February 6, 2007 [7 favorites]


Reading the informed comment (including a man who used to doctor such footage prerelease during the Balkan conflict) on those military forums, there seems some incredulity at the stated reason for not releasing the video - that it might reveal sensitive information - given the large number of other cockpit HUD footage made available, the age of the system in question, and the availability online of the technical specs.
The fact that the MOD appear to have lied to L/CoH (as I learn his rank should be abbreviated) Hull's next of kin over the existence of the video looks particularly shabby to me.
posted by Abiezer at 8:36 AM on February 6, 2007


The US has agreed to the use of the footage in the Inquest - BBC from Downing Street spokesman.

About time. I was beginning to think they had no interest in minimising friendly-fire deaths.
posted by Shave at 8:37 AM on February 6, 2007


We spell minimize with a Z.
posted by smackfu at 8:44 AM on February 6, 2007


Nah, I think they fly looking backwards and use iron sights. But considering you know as little about A-10s as I do, we're both talking out of our asses.

The A-10 has possibly the crappiest avionics suite of any "modern" aircraft. During the '91 desert adventure the pilots were using the inbuilt IR camera on the AGM-65 Maverick missiles to look at targets (there were several friendly-fire incidents then too) - iirc even now the pilots wear NODs rather than having actual FLIR systems such as the LANTIRN pods used on the F-15E. Not to appear to justify their unwarranted attack on allied forces or anything but truly and honestly pilot error as a result of shitty systems compounded by insufficient battlefield awareness was likely the cause of this loss of life.
posted by longbaugh at 8:45 AM on February 6, 2007


Good for you.
posted by Shave at 8:45 AM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


If I thought painting my missiles orange would confuse the enemy and provide a tactical advantage you bet your ass I would paint them day glow.

I see your point but if you're going to attack stuff with Allied markings because they might be the enemy in disguise, there's little point in using the markings in the first place.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:47 AM on February 6, 2007


(My previous comment is not meant to absolve the DoD from withholding the evidence - proof once again that a desire to cover one's ass increases with rank in the exact opposite proportion to the ability to take responsibility for one's actions. Fucktards that they all are).

Oh, and regards the identification of targets - painting a fucking great big white "V" didn't work last time around and painting black and white D-Day stripes on ground attack aircraft didn't work 60 odd years ago. Go figure. Dayglo might be the answer, just wait until someone figures out active camouflage...
posted by longbaugh at 8:54 AM on February 6, 2007


You missed one - the British government.

I dunno about that, I can imagine a MoD (Ministry of Defence) civil servant leaking it, but a government minister as the leaker seems far-fetched.
posted by matthewr at 8:55 AM on February 6, 2007


A government Minister is far-fetched, agreed. This tape has been through many hands both in and out of government in Britain, and almost all wanted it released.
posted by Shave at 9:09 AM on February 6, 2007


The BBC is now showing excerpts from the cockpit video on Newsround - essentially Childrens news reports.

That is quite surprising to me.

smackfu: how is spelling relevant?
posted by dash_slot- at 9:30 AM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Not to appear to justify their unwarranted attack on allied forces or anything but truly and honestly pilot error as a result of shitty systems compounded by insufficient battlefield awareness was likely the cause of this loss of life.

Oh humm..excuse my nosy curiosity , but weren't billions, billions, after billions and more billions and then a little more billions and more..of REAL MONEY spent on building a lot of technical equipement ?

I bet that with a fraction of the money one could have trained 100000 engineers/scientist/whatnot and obtain result such as

1. locate a pimple on your ass from space
2. cure the pimple
3. make anybody sexy

clearly the military-industrial complex produced some shit technology and/or expensive one. Using the chain analogy, the weakest link in a million dollars machine is a system that, when not used or not operable, renders the remaining millions worth thousands..and kills somebody in the process.
posted by elpapacito at 9:36 AM on February 6, 2007


Whether or not you politically agree with the mission, friendly fire deaths are a regrettable, but inevitable part of war. Those in the fight know this. Beating up on these people for trying to do their job is foolish. Better to go after the fools who set them up in such a situation.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:39 AM on February 6, 2007


elpapacito, at the end of the day there is a human element involved. Human element introduces error into the chain. You can do your best to train for it and test for it, but at the end of the day, to err is human. :p
posted by cavalier at 9:51 AM on February 6, 2007


Word, Ironmouth.

The more I read of history, the more I suspect that friendly fire is far more prevalent than we like to think. Horrific as the cases in Iraq are, does anyone have any data on how this relates to say, WW* or Vietnam? I'd guess things are actually getting better, and honestly, I'm amazed there's not a whole lot more of this in Iraq, given the conditions.
posted by freebird at 9:52 AM on February 6, 2007


biffa has it.
posted by Land Stander at 9:55 AM on February 6, 2007


What biffa said, too. There are a lot of contributing factors to any blue on blue incident, and you'd think the orange tags would do what they were supposed to, but the pilots checked and rechecked with the controller who had confirmation, he thought, that the area was clear of friendlies. That indicates a communication breakdown up the chain.

The controller had visual of their position, most likely from a high-altitude plane (I believe he may even have been on that plane himself). He was the one with cameras and stable views, in other words, so he bears at least part of the responsibility even if he had bad information.

But it's really inexcusable that the Pentagon treats our allies this way, with cover-ups and hide-the-video games. But they treat families of American soldiers the same way, so really, what can you expect?

The more I read of history, the more I suspect that friendly fire is far more prevalent than we like to think. Horrific as the cases in Iraq are, does anyone have any data on how this relates to say, WW* or Vietnam? I'd guess things are actually getting better, and honestly, I'm amazed there's not a whole lot more of this in Iraq, given the conditions.

I'm inclined to think it ebbs and flows, but generally gets greater as the distance between shooter and target increases. WWI had plenty of unacknowledged friendly deaths due to misblown gas or misfired artillery. WWII had its share as well. Just one friendly naval kill -- and these happened -- means a lot of dead friendlies. The Gulf War was shockingly high, at least 23%, in part because there were so few coalition deaths period (aside from Scud attacks, there was only one real equivalent-forces fight, the skirmish just over the Saudi border before the invasion began). Since then the US military has invested a lot in technological solutions, but those don't work when you have invited guests who haven't installed the same tech -- and anyway, any kind of IFF announce system is itself a risk if your enemy has the right detection gear.

I think this increasing reliance on technology can only lead to less human use of second-thoughts and oversight.
posted by dhartung at 10:43 AM on February 6, 2007


a government minister as the leaker seems far-fetched.

Half if not all the stuff in the British papers about the UK government and its policies has been leaked by ministers, or at least by their special advisers. It's not far-fetched at all - the government is stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of having to keep up relations with Washington but also be seen to do the right thing for the victim's family. It is not hard at all to imagine a spad or press officer phoning the Sun and doing a deal.
posted by greycap at 10:44 AM on February 6, 2007


(copy, MapGuy.)

It's not just the airedales, either.

Dad, an armorer in a 155 battery, had to take his turn at FOP, spotting and calling in fire on Germans. He'd have visual on (usually, though not always) distant targets, but he wouldn't always know who else was near that distant bocage he was relaying instructions for the battery shoot at -- he had to cross his fingers and hope that either there weren't infantrymen from his or the other regiment over there too, or if there were, somebody back at the battery post would know to refuse the fire mission, or nobody'd screw up and add or drop one click too many. He didn't participate in any friendly-fire sitches himself, but he knew of a couple of pretty close calls and outright foulups, so he was careful to double-check his grid-squares before he picked up that field telephone -- just killing the enemy, he averred once, was bad enough.

I could probably regale/horrify/bore the hell out of you with at-sea friendly fire stories, too. At least one naval battle in the Solomon Islands group hinged in part on a skipper being unsure if he was engaging part of his own forces -- radar was pretty primitive then, and the US Navy hadn't practiced night surface combat nearly as much as the IJN and were

On preview: Skygazer, one unwritten rule in air-to-ground is "one pass and haul ass" -- if you're not 100% sure you're merely clubbing baby seals, you could wind up eating a MANPAD now that the gomers are alert that there's an air threat. Even a one-in-a-million maximally unlucky shot from somebody's rifle -- a "golden BB" -- could ruin your day. So, no freebies, and no warning shots.
posted by pax digita at 10:49 AM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


You can do your best to train for it and test for it, but at the end of the day, to err is human. :p

ORLY ? What about IFF systems ? They aren't new tech and they are easily deployable also on tanks. There are no or extremely few people would could have used IFF to identify location of a target (no russians=no serious opponent).

While one can understand the A-10 pilot not trying a visual identification if fear of being shot , one can use other planes as spotter and then direct the A-10 which is a tankbuster, highly specialized , but worth shit at recon.

On a rapidly moving frontline NOT shooting is exactly what you do because, obviously, shooting friendly gives damage to morale of shooter , kills the shooted and destroy equipement , while shooting enemy produce less measurable results (who knows, maybe it was about to fail anyway). It didn't look like a life-death acceptable risk mission, but just a last-run-before-we-go-home and celebrate.

But know what is a lot cheaper ? Hire a couple guy like our Mapguy over there who are good at presenting rationalizations and plausible reason for failure. It's a lot cheaper then hiring and preparing an army of engineers/planners/logistic that may even dare point out the obvious, that all the promises made on Tech weren't actually delivered.
posted by elpapacito at 10:57 AM on February 6, 2007


Friendly fire is probably the greatest danger to Coalition forces, since most of the is being wielded by their own side. Saying these guys aren't remorseful is stupid. One says "I'm going to be sick" and at one point the transcript says "weeping".

Did the British trucks not have IFF? I thought the targeting reticle indicated a friendly. Ignoring that would be a criminal oversight. But I could see enemies using the orange paint to deceive planes, ground was telling them there were no friendly targets in the area, their communication was getting repeatedly stepped on, and they spent considerable effort trying to confirm that the targets were valid.
posted by Manjusri at 11:19 AM on February 6, 2007


greycap, I can't imagine a government minister allowing this tape to be leaked. The government has nothing to gain from the tape's release — it makes the Americans even less willing to share classified stuff with us if it gets leaked like this. Leaking a classified tape like this is almost certainly breaking the law (the US embassy has already made noises about this), and would end the career of any minister who allowed it to happen (in a spectacular and permanent way, not in the Blunkett way). I don't see how the government gains from the tape's release — things would have died down in the press eventually if the government had just repeated the line about it being American property. The ideal, from a PR point of view, would be the Americans agreeing to its release, but it's unclear whether that was ever really going to happen.
posted by matthewr at 11:22 AM on February 6, 2007


Did the British trucks not have IFF?

No, the MoD went for the usual shoestring option, in this case orange paint.
posted by matthewr at 11:24 AM on February 6, 2007


Snyder: Nah, I think they fly looking backwards and use iron sights. But considering you know as little about A-10s as I do, we're both talking out of our asses.


Right.

I guess I was foolish to attempt to the draw logical conclusion that a heavily armored plane (sometimes described as a "flying tank or cannon") with self sealing fuel tanks, so it can fly low to the ground and destroy artillery and tanks, might have good visibility or at least some sort of decent video or identification system, with which to see what it was blowing to smithereens.


And if it doesn't, well than what the F*ck were they thinking?
posted by Skygazer at 11:25 AM on February 6, 2007


A-10 which is a tankbuster, highly specialized , but worth shit at recon

Not that FAC observation is precisely identical to reconnaisance, but it's worth noting that there's basic overlap between the mission requirements, and the USAF redesignated the Hawg from the A-10 to the O/A-10, so it's probably somewhat useful for lookin' around a battlefield.

I think you're sort of right about IFF, but I don't know if there's commonality among NATO / coalition on using IFF in ground elements -- everybody's supposed to understand orange panels, in theory at least. IFF isn't bulletproof either -- it can crap out, or fail to register, it's more electronic emanation that can be interfered with, and it's one more step toward task saturation for already very busy aviators. This link about testing the technology is from Nov '05 -- a little late to help our LCpl of Horse, of course.

And under certain circumstances, IFF transponders can be the electronic equivalent of a "KICK ME" sign taped between your shoulder blades -- esp. when you can't run away from inbound munitions any faster than a tracked vehicle or a flatbed truck. Depending on the enemy's ORBAT and capabilities, radiating anything can get you shot at.

On preview: Feed your heads, y'all. 'Sides, flying anything around a battlefield at 300 kts in a potentially hostile environment gets complicated mighty quickly. It's like driving in heavy high-speed traffic, with the off chance of road rage. There's entirely too much you have to think about and pay attention to, all of it at once, all of it continuously.

For me, the crucial question would probably come down to seeing orange panels and winding up launching/dropping anyhow: What was the decision process?
posted by pax digita at 11:40 AM on February 6, 2007


i sometimes think america's allies would do well to remember this joke from WW 2: "If the Germans bomb, the British duck; if the British bomb, the Germans duck; and if the Americans bomb, everybody ducks."

in the first widely reported friendly fire incident from the invasion and occupation of iraq, i seem to recall there was a british or canadian soldier who made the complaint that "the americans shoot whatever their computers tell them to shoot."

i really do wonder if this is more of a problem for american forces than for others. seems like you don't really ever hear about coalition forces friendly firing on u.s. troops.

i hope L/CPl hull's family can find peace.
posted by lord_wolf at 12:11 PM on February 6, 2007


Blah, blah, blah. Listen to the first three minutes and you get it: One guy wants to go home because they're running low on fuel, while his gung-ho buddy wants to kill something before they do. The buddy keeps whining and cajoling, till the first guy gives in -- against his better judgment. Snafu results, complete with crocodile tears.

Totally predictable, really. Has anyone here gone fishing/hunting recently? Most accidents and stupidity (e.g., dead farm animals) happen when you're chasing daylight. No one wants to come home empty-handed, lest the trip be "wasted."

(Extend the metaphor to the whole friggin' Iraq mess, if you want to.)
posted by turducken at 12:22 PM on February 6, 2007


Like biffa said, the real story here is the attempt to obscure and cover the truth after the incident.

FF incidents are part and parcel of war (read Paul Fussell's book Wartime for a good idea how common they were in WWII). There was no reason for the U.S. to sit on this information for so long.
posted by Kikkoman at 12:29 PM on February 6, 2007


pax digita : dude you are all around correct

1. yes electronic IFF isn't the _one_ answer and _failsafe_ method to obtain safety. Yes it radiates and could even, gosh, misconfigured !

But no idiot is going to use merely "visual signs" such as orange panel ALONE, because the enemy, whatever "enemy" can just frigging paint some orange ! Doesn't require, but intelligence and orange cans !

Clearly a NATO electronic IFF can be tampered with , hacked etc..but not copied as easily as orange goo !

Combine orange visual + electronic IFF, done to selectively radiate on demand, and it seems the risks goes down WITHOUT entirely relying on Officer X notifying Asshole Z that they are there and whatnot

But my main point remains : this is NOT 2000 technology, this shit have been existing for YEARS. So on what kind of manure has trillions of dollars , natowide, been spent on ?

Who syphoned this money ? How the hell is it possible that a slot machine in Vegas can almost tell you your credit history and sexual relationship and a millions dollar airplane can't identify something as big as an armored vehicle ?

Mind you , this same reasoning will be used to sell the idea U.S. et al need to spend for more advanced tech...on what the fuck did they spent the last trillions on ?
posted by elpapacito at 1:08 PM on February 6, 2007


But no idiot is going to use merely "visual signs" such as orange panel ALONE

However did armies cope in the decades prior to widespread IFF? Oh yeah, communicating with one another and looking at things before shooting at them.
posted by matthewr at 1:16 PM on February 6, 2007


However did armies cope in the decades prior to widespread IFF? Oh yeah, communicating with one another and looking at things before shooting at them.

And of course by just living with killing their own troops from time to time. It's not like friendly fire is new; ask Stonewall Jackson.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:49 PM on February 6, 2007


They're orange targets, they're moving north, they look nothing like the targets in the mission and at no point are any kind of coordinates or locations described when they clearly have doubts, But friendly fire just happens and is unavoidable - especially in such high stress situation like perfect weather, maxed out visibility, total air superiority and a radar blind enemy.
posted by vbfg at 2:03 PM on February 6, 2007


by just living with killing their own troops from time to time

Yeah I can live with that, but I can't live with these living with killing as if it was an inconvenience. And I mean it literally, too.
posted by elpapacito at 2:35 PM on February 6, 2007


biffa writes The key point of this story is not the culpability of the pilots or their controllers, far more pertinent is that US forces fired on and killed allies then declined submission of the evidence to the inquest into the deaths. In this they continued a policy of not assisting in inquiries into these friendly fire incidents.

Exactly. Debate the incident all you want (personally, I hope those dumbfucks never flew again) but this is more about the cover-up than the incident itself. Blair has been loyal to Bush to a fault, and this is how we repay them?
posted by bardic at 3:48 PM on February 6, 2007


But friendly fire just happens and is unavoidable

It's perfectly avoidable. It will always occur, but the whole point of an incident like this is to show that there were at least five different mistakes made (the ground controllers bare responsibility as well). Hopefully, the pilots and controller(s) were all severely punished for their incompetence.
posted by bardic at 3:50 PM on February 6, 2007


Hopefully, the pilots and controller(s) were all severely punished for their incompetence.

I believe the reports have said that they were all cleared of any wrongdoing by an internal US military inquiry.
posted by flashboy at 4:36 PM on February 6, 2007


Jessamyn/Matthowie: Feel free to delete ALL comments in this thread except Biffa's and then close it.
posted by spock at 4:37 PM on February 6, 2007


I believe the reports have said that they were all cleared of any wrongdoing by an internal US military inquiry.

I figured as much. Officers can do no wrong in today's US military.
posted by bardic at 4:57 PM on February 6, 2007


I know a pilot who told me that the longest five seconds of his life happened between the time he first fired on a live target in Iraq and the *tick* *tick* *tick* *tick* *tick* that it took from when he pulled the trigger to when he heard the friendlies on the ground radio back telling him that he'd hit the target, because in that five second eternity he couldn't be totally sure that he hadn't accidentally fired on friendlies. It's easy to dismiss a "high stress situation like perfect weather, maxed out visibility, total air superiority and a radar blind enemy," when you aren't in a war zone and people aren't trying to kill you to the best of their admittedly diminished ability.

Honestly, I read this thread and I don't get the feeling that many of the folks screeching "crocodile tears," have known that many military pilots. For anyone who does ground support, an Own Goal/Friendly Fire incident is pretty much their worst nightmare.

The supression of the video, though, is inexcusable.
posted by Cyrano at 5:40 PM on February 6, 2007


spock: want to rerun to "why do they treat us like that" ?

Well we did get some good treatement here in the Cermis accident , killing 20 civilians, involving a low level flying U.S. military jet. Certainly not a blue-on-blue , but still an accident involving what seems to be _lack of care_ as the Pentagon Map was outdated and the pilot was flying maybe too low.

What completely angered the public opinion was the fact the pilot were NOT found guilty, but later were court martialed again for _destroying tape evidence_

There is a tradition of coverup in the military that rivals only corporate and government coverups. All happens by accident and is despicable, nothing changes because, the reasoning goes, people just forget.
posted by elpapacito at 5:40 PM on February 6, 2007


I for one was a little disturbed by the frequent use of "dude" by pilots who have people lives at their mercy.

Dude that was SO NOT an enemy target
posted by crowman at 5:41 PM on February 6, 2007


re: Tarmak -- don't forget this part of it:

In testimony it was revealed that Schmidt and Umbach were told by their superiors to use "go pills" on their missions, and blamed the incident on the drugs. This was a significant part of the defense of the two pilots.
posted by dreamsign at 12:37 AM on February 7, 2007


It's easy in a way to say it was just pilot and communication errors, but then the Soviet guy who decided not to launch nuclear weapons in retaliation to what appeared to be an incoming strike, well... he managed not to fuck up. He didn't have orange panels giving him hints.
I understand that in situations like this you will doubt the information you can discern.
Like new pilots flying into cloud and not trusting their instruments, but these were high ranked pilots, they should be far better trained than this! And this is it, I don't blame them so much as everything else - their superiors, the decisions made about installing IFF, the communication fuck ups and the lack of checks and whatnot before firing on a target.
posted by opsin at 5:47 AM on February 7, 2007


I don't get the feeling that many of the folks screeching "crocodile tears," have known that many military pilots.

That was me I suspect, and you're right I know none at all. You misunderstood my point though, which was that there is no "clear evidence of remorse" at all. I even qualified the comment by sayinging I'm sure they did feel remorse, it would be impossible not to.

I care not one jot about the stress other pilots feel in other siotuations btw. The only relevant details about these pilots and this situation are the details of the situation they're actually in. If they're under fire and under enormous stress, show me where that is in the video evidence.
posted by vbfg at 9:53 AM on February 7, 2007


btw, for thoe of you wondering what happend to the pilots, you'll be pleased to know that one of them is now an instructor in strafing ground targets.
posted by vbfg at 9:54 AM on February 7, 2007


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