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Now hear this! sn69, Please report to briefing room.(4 posts)

Now hear this! sn69, Please report to briefing room.Dale Brigham
Mar 24, 2003 7:45 AM

I'd like to hear your thoughts on the "friendly fire" incident in Afghanistan. You know, the one wherein two USAF F-16 pilots mistakenly bombed Canadian troops who were were engaged in a nighttime live-fire exercise, killing four soldiers.

The recommendations of the board of inquiry of the recently concluded USAF hearings into this matter were that 1) no court martial proceedings should be initiated, and 2) the pilots should be subject to reprimand. From what I understand (which ain't much), the recommendations of the board are not binding (i.e., court martial proceedings could still be initiated).

So, as a military aviator, what do you make of this incident and the outcome, so far? I have no ax to grind in this case; I just want to hear what an expert thinks. I fear this topic may come up again (e.g., the British Tornado downed by what is thought to be a Patriot missle) in the current conflict in Iraq.

Thanks! (over and out)

Friendly fire isn't....sn69
Mar 24, 2003 10:37 AM
That, so goes the axiom, is the first rule of warfare, the second one being that he who makes the least mistakes wins.

This and the other friendly fire incidents are tragic and troubling, but not new. In fact, the majority of the battle-field casualities coalition forces suffered in GW1 were fratricide. The fog of war/confusion of battle is so taxing and so all-encompassing that blue-on-blue is inevitable. The best we can ever hope to do is enact enough countermeasures to mitigate it to a handful of incidents. ...Not very comforting....

Speaking of the ANG guys who bombed the Canadians, I can say that there's more to the case than we are exposed to via easily condensed and packaged, ratings-seeking media attention. Some things that factor into the issue include: 1. Positive control/authority to "go hot" and drop weapons.
2. Accuracy of the forward air controller.
3. Position of the Canadians.
4. Position of the jets (were they where they thought they were?)
5. Bomb fuzing/time/release point (was the equipment working right).
6. Pre-breifed frag distances (were the troops far enough away from the intended target).
7. Human factors like sleep deprivation (those f@#$ing go pills), dehydration, hunger, etc.
8. Pilot currency.

I don't know the specifics about these, but any one alone could have forged the final link in the chain of events, much less the synergistic affect of two or more. It's a tough nut to crack.

General courts martial is usually reserved for willfull felonius activity or criminal negligence. To prove the latter, there would have to be compelling evidence that the pilots were flippant and non-challant about the mission (before, during and after). I highly doubt that's the case and I suspect that both guys will bear the guilt and scars from this to the end of their days. How does one live with something like this?!

While some of the victims' families are pressing for criminal prosecution, others are not. Ultimately and based on my time in the service, I suspect that the Canadian soldiers would not want the men prosecuted. That's admittedly esoteric conjecture, but those of us in this profession share many emotional bonds that are nebulous and difficult to quantify with simple words. I just don't think it's what the Canadians would want.....

Also, letters of reprimand will effectively end the pilots' careers. They will never get promoted again, and it's unlikely that they'll be able to continue flying. While that seems hardly a trade for lost lives, it is still fairly severe. And, like I've said, these two guys have to live with what they did...and that's going to be a lot harder.

Thanks for your thoughtful analysisDale Brigham
Mar 24, 2003 11:51 AM
I figured I'd learn a lot from your perspective, and I indeed did. Personally, I feel badly for all involved -- ANG pilots, USAF air controllers, Canadian casualties, their families and comrades, and ANG/USAF leadership.

My very inexpert opinion is that these guys (ANG pilots) were trained to aggressively pursue and eliminate threats in the air and on the ground, and that instinctual mindset, combined with the "fog of war" and all of the other factors you cited above, led them to make a mistake. Not that I don't want us to have aggressive pilots who can take independent action; I just am not surprised when, in the heat of combat, this kind of accident happens.

Like you said, war sucks!

Canadian opinion is splitJon Billheimer
Mar 24, 2003 3:27 PM
Although some of the wives and families of the Canadian soldiers who were killed have been pressing for a courts martial, others think that would be going too far. I have contacts out at Edmonton Garrison where the PPCLI are stationed and I think Scott's right. The majority opinion is that the pilots need to be disciplined administratively but not court martialed and sent to jail.

There has been a huge amount of reportage on the hearings in the Canadian press with opinions expressed on both sides of the issue. The gist of what I've read is that the pilots were too aggressive, had other options, etc., and didn't wait for confirmation after having been told to. But to court martial them might put unreasonable constraints on military personnel in subsequent combat situations.