in organizational behavior, Professor Snook writes from a rare vantage point, having been a victim of friendly fire himself in Granada in 1993.
On April 14, 1994, two U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters accidentally shot down two U.S. Army Black Hawk Helicopters over Northern Iraq, killing all twenty-six passengers onboard, who were on a peacekeeping Operation Provide Comfort mission to a Kurdish village. The tragic incident took place in broad daylight and had highly qualified and experienced crews in both aircraft, who, furthermore, were monitored by a US AWACS (airborne warning and control system) flying above them.
In response to this disaster the complete gamut of military and civilian investigative and judicial procedures was run through. This incident has been investigated by (in chronological order) an USAF Aircraft Accident Investigation Board, by the US General Accounting Office review of that report [GAO 1997], by the book under review [Snook 2000], by the mother of one of the officers killed [Piper 2001], and by Nancy Leveson, Polly Allen and Margaret-Anne Storey [Leveson 2001].
On the morning of the shootdown, the two F-15 fighter pilots, used to high altitude air-to-air combat, were assigned to sweep the no fly zone for enemy aircraft. They believed that they were the first aircraft in the secure zone that morning, and when they spotted the two helicopters on their own radar screens, they tried unsuccessfully to identify whether they were friend or foe. As a result of different codes being used by the two service branches, the Army helicopters answered the Airforce pilots electronic query with the wrong code, and were identified as enemies (Snook 157). The fighters then decided to attempt a visual identification. The lead pilot flew above and to the left of the low-flying U.S. helicopters and misidentified them as Russian Hind helicopters while trying to avoid flying into a mountain. When asked to confirm by the lead pilot, the second pilot replied "Tally Two" meaning that he saw two helicopters. This was misinterpreted by the lead pilot as confirmation of their enemy status. This misidentification was confirmed by the second pilot Both fighters circled around behind the helicopters, turned on their missiles, and informed the AWACS crew that they had "engaged two Hinds." This meant that they were ready to fire on the targets. The AWACS crew, flying their first mission together, were also of little assistance. The AWACS replied, "Roger, engaged." The pilots assumed this as permission to fire the missiles and triggered their release. The Air Force pilots saw US helicopters where (they thought) they should not be, when they were not expected to be, using a wrong frequency of IFF, and shot them down as enemies. All 26 people on board the helicopters were killed instantly.
Whenever different service branches of the US armed forces work together in a military operation, a common plan is formulated detailing the rules and codes. Operations Plan 91-7 described the rules governing Operation Provide Comfort. However elaborate, this plan failed to influence the on field exchanges between the services. Communication was especially hampered by a large number of misunderstandings caused by different meanings