1994 Black Hawk shootdown incident


1994 Black Hawk shootdown incident

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict= 1994 Black Hawk shootdown incident


caption= United States military personnel inspect the wreckage of one of the two Black Hawks shot down in the friendly fire incident in northern Iraq
date=April 14, 1994
place=Arbil, Iraq
casus=
result=Two U.S. military helicopters destroyed,
26 military and civilian personnel killed
The 1994 Black Hawk shootdown incident, sometimes referred to as the Black Hawk Incident, was a "friendly fire" incident over northern Iraq that occurred on April 14, 1994 during Operation Provide Comfort (OPC). The pilots of two United States Air Force (USAF) F-15 fighter aircraft, operating under the control of a USAF airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft, misidentified two United States Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters as Iraqi Mil Mi-24 "Hind" helicopters. The F-15 pilots fired on and destroyed both helicopters, killing 26 military service members and civilians from the United States (U.S.), United Kingdom, France, Turkey, and the Kurdish community.

A subsequent USAF investigation blamed the accident on several factors. The F-15 pilots were faulted for misidentifying the helicopters as hostile. Also, the crew members of the AWACS aircraft were blamed for their inaction in failing to exercise appropriate control and for not intervening in the situation. In addition, the identification friend or foe (IFF) systems had not functioned to identify the helicopters to the F-15 pilots. Furthermore, USAF leaders had failed to adequately integrate U.S. Army helicopter operations into overall OPC air operations. As a result of the investigation several USAF officers received administrative discipline but only one, Jim Wang, an AWACS crew member, was tried by military court-martial, in which he was acquitted.

As a result of complaints by family members of the victims and others that the military was failing to hold the participating military personnel in the incident accountable, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House conducted their own investigations into the shootdown and the U.S. military's response to it. Also, Ronald R. Fogleman, the USAF's new Chief of Staff, conducted his own review of the actions taken by the USAF against the officers involved in the incident.

Fogleman's investigation lead to several of the officers involved in the incident receiving further administrative discipline. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) subsequently refused U.S. Senate subpoenas for four USAF officers to be interviewed for the Senate investigation, which was never publicly released. The U.S. House investigation, conducted in part by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), found that the military investigative and judicial systems had operated mostly as designed, but also noted that the DoD had refused access to key witnesses.

Background

(OPC). [Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 3–4, 27–29, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 143.]

OPC took place in an area of northern Iraq above the 36th parallel. This area, approximately 160 by 70 kilometers in size, was designated a "no-fly" security zone by UN coalition forces and was enforced by a combined task force (CTF) of daily armed aircraft patrols from participating nations, including the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, and the United States. The United States Army was tasked with assisting civilian relief agencies to build communities and facilities for the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Over the next three years, 27,000 fixed-wing and 1,400 helicopter coalition flights took place in the zone to support humanitarian operations without interference from Iraqi aircraft or other military units. [Schmitt, "Copter Deaths: Pentagon Finds Human Failure", Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 7–8, 29–30.]

In April 1994 OPC was co-commanded by USAF Brigadier General Jeffrey Pilkington. The OPC combined air forces were commanded by USAF Colonel Curtis Emery. USAF Colonel Douglas J. Richardson was the director of operations for the combined air forces. [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 162, Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 30. The other OPC co-commander was a Turkish military general officer.]

Incident

On April 14, 1994, at local time, a USAF E-3 AWACS aircraft from the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron (based at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma) departed Incirlik Air Base (AB), Turkey in support of OPC. The AWACS, with its 19 member crew under the mission crew command of Major Lawrence Tracy, was to provide airborne threat warning and air control for all OPC aircraft during its time aloft. The AWACS crew reported on station at its assigned surveillance orbit altitude of convert|32000|ft|m|-1 located inside Turkey just north of the northern border of Iraq at 08:45. The weather that day was fair and clear over northern Iraq. [Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 4, 46, 53–54, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 10–12, 51.]

At 08:22, two U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the 6th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment (based in Giebelstadt, Germany), called Eagle Flight, departed Pirinçlik, near Diyarbakır, Turkey headed for the OPC military coordination center (MCC) located in Zakhu, Iraq. Both helicopters were fitted with external, 230-gallon fuel tanks on sponsons mounted beside each side door with each tank emblazoned with large American flags. In addition to the flags on the fuel tanks, each helicopter was marked with American flags on each side door, on the nose, and on the belly. The lead Black Hawk was piloted by U.S. Army Captain Patrick McKenna, commander of the Eagle Flight detachment of six helicopters. [Washington, "So, Who's to Blame?", Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 76.]

At 09:21, the Black Hawks reported their entry into the no-fly zone by radio on the en route frequency to the AWACS en route controller, Lieutenant Joseph Halcli, and then landed six minutes later at the MCC. Halcli and his superior officer, Captain Jim Wang, the AWACS' senior director, added "friendly helicopter" tags to their radar scopes, noted that both helicopters were displaying identification friend or foe (IFF) signals, and then suspended the radar symbols after the Black Hawks disappeared from their scopes upon landing at the MCC at 09:24. Although the helicopters were squawking (signalling) the wrong IFF code for the no-fly zone (called the Tactical Area of Responsibility or TAOR), neither Wang nor Halcli informed the Black Hawk pilots of that. Wang and Halcli also neglected to direct the Black Hawks to begin using the TAOR radio frequency instead of the en route frequency. [Weiner, "Court-Martial Nears in Case of Helicopters Shot Down", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 6–21, 51, Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 4, 55, & 100–101. Six Eagle Flight helicopters were stationed at Pirinclik. This was Wang's 60th mission over OPC.]

.]

En route to Arbil, at 10:12, the Black Hawks entered mountainous terrain and their radar returns disappeared from the AWACS' scopes. Captain Dierdre Bell, an air surveillance officer on the AWACS, noticed that the Black Hawks' radar returns had disappeared and sent an electronic "attention arrow" to Wang's scope. Wang took no action and the large blinking green arrow automatically disappeared from his screen after one minute. [Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 56, 101, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 23–24, Weiner, "Court-Martial Nears in Case of Helicopters Shot Down".]

. Wickson had over 1,300 flying hours with about 700 in F-15s and this was his 18th mission over OPC.]

At 10:20 Wickson, the F-15C flight lead, reported entering northern Iraq to the AWACS controller responsible for air traffic inside the TAOR, USAF Lieutenant Ricky Wilson. The TAOR frequency that the F-15s were using was different than the en-route frequency being used by the two Black Hawks. Wilson, however, was monitoring both frequencies as well as being able to see both Black Hawks on his radar scope before they disappeared at 10:12. Wilson and the other AWACS crew members, many of whom were monitoring the F-15's radio frequency, did not inform the F-15s that Black Hawks were currently operating in the TAOR. At 10:21, Wilson, believing that the Black Hawks had landed again, asked Wang if he could drop the friendly helicopter symbols from the AWACS' scopes and Wang approved the request. An AWACS crew instructor, Captain Mark Cathy, who was on the mission to assist the AWACS crew and supervise Wilson on this, his first mission into the TAOR, had retired to the back of the airplane at 10:00 to take a nap. [Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 4–6, 55, 60, 83–86, & 101, 116, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 15–26, 51–52.]

At 10:22, Wickson, flying at convert|27000|ft|m|-1 reported a radar contact on a low-flying, slow-moving aircraft convert|40|mi|km|0 southeast of his current position. Wilson acknowledged Wickson's report with a "clear there" response, meaning that he had no radar contacts in that area. Unknown to the two F-15 pilots, the unidentified aircraft were the two U.S. Army Black Hawks. Contrary to standard procedure, neither Tracy or Wang spoke up at this point to request that the AWACS crew members attempt to identify the F-15's radar contacts. [Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 4, Weiner, "Court-Martial Nears in Case of Helicopters Shot Down", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 15–27, 52, Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 4–6, 60, 102.]

Both F-15 pilots then electronically interrogated the radar target with their on-board IFF systems across two different frequencies. Their IFF systems responded negatively to the attempt to identify the contact on the first frequency. The second frequency momentarily gave a positive response, but thereafter responded negatively and the F-15s moved to intercept the unidentified aircraft. Intermittent IFF returns from the Black Hawks now began to show on Wilson's and other AWACS crew member's scopes and friendly helicopter symbols reappeared on Wang's scope. After closing to convert|20|mi|km|0 of the radar contacts, at 10:25 the F-15s again reported the contact to the AWACS and Wilson this time responded that he now had a radar contact at that reported location. Although the Black Hawk intermittent radar and now steady IFF returns on the AWACS scopes were in the same location as the unidentified contacts being tracked by the F-15s, none of the AWACS controllers advised Wickson or May that the contacts they were tracking might be friendly helicopters. [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 26–29, 52–53, 217, Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 6, 60–62, 102, 118, Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 4, Washington, "So, Who's to Blame?".]

The two F-15s now initiated a visual identification (VID) pass of the contact. The VID pass entailed violating one of OPC's rules of engagement, which prohibited fighter aircraft from operating below convert|10000|ft|m|-1 above the ground. At this time the two Black Hawks had entered a deep valley and were cruising at a speed of convert|130|kn|mph km/h|-1 about convert|200|ft|m|-1 above the ground. Wickson's VID pass was conducted at a speed of about convert|450|kn|mph km/h|-1, convert|500|ft|m|-1 above and convert|1000|ft|m|-2 to the left of the helicopters. At 10:28 Wickson reported "Tally 2 Hinds" and then passed the two Black Hawks. [Weiner, "Court-Martial Nears in Case of Helicopters Shot Down", Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 6, 60–63, 76, 102 Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 29–30, 53.] "Hind" is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) designation for the Mil Mi-24 helicopter, a helicopter that the Iraqi and Syrian militaries operated and was usually configured with armament on small, side-mounted wings. [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 41, Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 6.] Wilson responded with "Copy, Hinds" and asked Wang, "Sir, are you listening to this?" Wang responded, "Affirmative" but offered no further guidance or comments. [Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 4, Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 6, 76, 102, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 30–31, 53, 211–216.]

May then conducted his own VID pass about convert|1500|ft|m|-2 above the helicopters and reported, "Tally 2." [Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 4, Weiner, "Court-Martial Nears in Case of Helicopters Shot Down", Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 6, 63, 76, 102, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 30–31, 53, 211–216.] May later stated to a USAF accident investigation board that his "Tally 2" call meant that he saw two helicopters but did not mean that he was confirming Wickson's identification of them as Hinds. [GAO, "Operation Provide Comfort"] Neither F-15 pilot had been informed that U.S. Army Black Hawks participating in OPC often carried auxiliary fuel tanks mounted on wings nor had either been instructed in the paint scheme that Iraqi Hind helicopters used, light brown and desert tan, which was different than the dark green color used by the Black Hawks. Wickson later stated that, "I had no doubt when I looked at him that he was a Hind...The Black Hawk did not even cross my mind." [Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 79–80, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 30–31.]

Following their VID passes, Wickson and May circled back behind the helicopters approximately convert|10|mi|km|0. Because aircraft from various nations sometimes operated unannounced in the northern Iraq area, the OPC rules of engagement required the F-15 pilots to attempt to verify the nationality of the helicopters. Instead, at 10:28, Wickson notified the AWACS that he and May were "engaged" and instructed May to "arm hot." [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 32, 53, 119, Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 6–7, 63, 102.] At 10:30, Wickson fired an AIM-120 AMRAAM missile at the trail helicopter from a range of about convert|4|nmi|km|-1. The missile hit and destroyed the trailing helicopter seven seconds later. In response, the lead Black Hawk, piloted by McKenna, immediately turned left and dived for lower altitude in an apparent attempt to evade the unexpected attack. About 20 seconds later, May fired an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile at the lead helicopter from a range of about convert|1.5|nmi|km|, hitting and shooting it down also (coord|36|46|N|45|05|E). All 26 people on board the two Black Hawks were killed. After flying over the wreckage of the two Black Hawks lying burning on the ground, May radioed Wickson, "Stick a fork in them, they're done." [Schmitt, "Chief of Air Force Grounds 5 Pilots", Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 6–7, 64, Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 4–6. Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 32–34, 53, 124–125, 139, 156.]

Air Force accident investigation

By 13:15 local time, Kurdish civilians notified the MCC that they had witnessed the two Black Hawks being shot down and reported that the helicopter's crews were dead and that there were no survivors. The news was quickly picked-up by the media and broadcast by Cable News Network. [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 48–49, 107. A Kurdish farmer had also videotaped the shootdown and some of the wreckage immediately afterwards.]

Within hours, U.S. President Bill Clinton was briefed on the shootdown and called the heads of state of the United Kingdom and France, John Major and François Mitterrand, to express regret and sympathy for the deaths of their citizens in the incident. Clinton then appeared a few hours later in a televised news conference in which he stated that he had directed the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to lead an inquiry into the accident. Clinton further stated, "We will get the facts, and we will make them available to the American people and to the people of Britain, France, and Turkey, our partners in Operation Provide Comfort." [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 55–56.]

, immediately appointed an Air Force Regulation (AFR) 110-14 accident investigation board composed of a board president, 11 board members from the USAF and U.S. Army, three associate members from France, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, four legal advisers, and 13 technical advisers. The board president was USAF Major General James G. Andrus. An AFR 110-14 investigation's findings are publicly released and the testimony of witnesses in the investigation can be used against them in military disciplinary proceedings. For this reason, after serious mishaps the USAF usually also conducts a separate safety investigation, in which the results are not publicly released and witness testimony is immune from prosecution. In this case, however, for unknown reasons the USAF decided not to conduct a safety investigation. [GAO, "Operation Provide Comfort", Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 8–10, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 67–68, 117, 227.]

After interviewing 137 witnesses and conducting numerous tests, the 27-volume AFR 110-14 investigation report was publicly released on July 13, 1994, although some of the report's details had been leaked to the media by unknown defense officials two weeks earlier. [Schmitt, "Copter Deaths: Pentagon Finds Human Failure", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 123–129, Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 16.] The board made seven general findings about what they believed caused the shootdown to occur::1. Wickson misidentified the Black Hawk helicopters and May failed to notify Wickson that he had been unable to confirm the identity of the helicopters.:2. The IFF transponders on the F-15s and/or the Black Hawks did not operate correctly for unknown reasons.:3. Misunderstandings existed throughout the OPC forces as to how coalition air operations procedures and responsibilities applied to MCC helicopter operations.:4. The AWACS crew commander, Lawrence Tracy, was not currently qualified in accordance with USAF regulations and he and the other AWACS crewmembers committed mistakes. [The USAF AFR 110-14 Accident Investigation Report Summary states that Tracy was not currently qualified because he had not flown the requisite three sorties during the prior three months. On December 22, 1993 Tracy was placed in "Duty-not-involving-flying" (DNIF) status and didn't fly again until February 23, 1994 when he flew one sortie and was waivered to return to mission ready (MR) status. He didn't fly another sortie until the April 14, 1994 mission in which the Black Hawks were shot down. During that time period, Tracy was incorrectly left in MR status and subsequently incorrectly designated as mission crew commander on April 14.] :5. OPC personnel in general were not properly trained in the rules of engagement for the northern Iraq no fly zone.:6. The Black Hawks were not equipped with more modern radios which would have allowed them to communicate with the F-15s.:7. The shootdown "was caused by a chain of events which began with the breakdown of clear guidance from the Provide Comfort Combined Task Force to its component organizations." [GAO, "Operation Provide Comfort", Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 66–67, Piper, "Friendly Fire", p. 128.]

The board report stated that, "There is no indication that the AWACS Senior Director (Wang), the Mission Crew Commander (Tracy) and/or the DUKE (Martin) made any radio calls throughout the intercept, or that they issued any guidance to either the AWACS crew or the F-15 pilots." [Weiner, "Court-Martial Nears in Case of Helicopters Shot Down", Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 102.] Although the OPC ROE did task the AWACS with controlling and monitoring helicopter operations in the TAOR, the board found that the AWACS crew believed that they had no responsibility for controlling U.S. Army Black Hawks or ensuring that other coalition aircraft were aware of Black Hawks operating in the TAOR. When questioned by board investigators as to who was responsible for tracking the helicopters, Tracy said, "I cannot tell you that. I honestly don't know." [Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 125.] When Wang was asked the same question by the investigators, he replied, "No one is responsible." [Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 126.] When the investigators asked Martin what action he took when the F-15s called a visual identification on two Hind helicopters, Martin stated, "I did nothing." [Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 127.]

The board found that combined OPC forces, led by Pilkington, Emery, Richardson, and other USAF officers, had failed to integrate helicopters into aircraft operations in the TAOR. An Eagle Flight officer later testified that he had been told by the CTF's chief of staff, a USAF officer, that the army Black Hawk unit was not considered to be part of OPC. Thus, the CTF staff, under the direction of USAF Colonel James Rusty O'Brien, had not tried to coordinate the U.S. Army Black Hawk missions into the daily ATOs. In fact, neither O'Brien nor his predecessors had established any type of procedure for communicating information on Black Hawk missions to the Combined Forces Air Component (CFAC). The MCC commander, Colonel Thompson, had personally called O'Brien on the night of April 13 to tell him about the next day's Black Hawk mission into northern Iraq, a mission that had been specifically and personally approved by Pilkington earlier that day. O'Brien or his staff apparently did not attempt to communicate specific information on this mission to the AWACS or F-15 fighter units at Incirlik, the CFAC, the ground-based mission director, or to the "Duke" on board the AWACS. [Washington, "So, Who's to Blame?", Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 8, 142–161, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 42–43, 210. O'Brien's full title is, "Commander, Operations, Plans, and Policy" for OPC.]

For reasons that USAF officers were unable to explain, two versions of each day's ATO were published, one for the USAF units at Incirlik, and another for the Eagle Flight unit at Pirinclik. The ATO version sent to Eagle Flight, for unknown reasons, gave a wrong IFF code for the TAOR. Although army Black Hawks had been operating for almost two years in the TAOR while squawking a wrong code and observed doing so by numerous AWACS crews, no one ever told them that they were using a wrong code. On the day of the shootdown, the F-15s had interrogated the Black Hawks on two different IFF frequencies. The first responded negatively because the Black Hawks were squawking the wrong code. The second frequency responded negatively for technical reasons that the investigation was unable to conclusively determine. [Washington, "So, Who's to Blame?", Schmitt, "Copter Deaths: Pentagon Finds Human Failure", Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 142–161, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 42. The USAF AFR 110-14 Accident Investigation Report Summary states that the possible reasons that the second frequency (Mode IV) responded negatively included: Wickson and May selected the wrong interrogation mode, both F-15's interrogators malfunctioned, both Black Hawk IFF transponder codes may have been loaded incorrectly, the close proximity of the two Black Hawks to each other may have "garbled" the IFF signals, and the mountainous terrain may have interfered with line-of-sight between the helicopters and the F-15s.]

The board did not investigate whether any USAF institutional factors, such as a lack of crew resource management training for the involved aircrews, might have been a factor. [Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 10–13, 247.] Also, the board did not attempt to determine if Wickson and May had violated any of the existing OPC rules of engagement as defined by the ATO or other written instructions. [GAO, "Operation Provide Comfort", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 248.]

The United States Secretary of Defense, William Perry, later summarized the "errors, omissions, and failures" contributing to the accident as, "The F-15 pilots misidentified the Black Hawks, the AWACS crew failed to intervene, Eagle Flight and their operations were not integrated into the Task Force, and the IFF systems failed." [Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 68.] General Shalikashvili, now serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that, "There were a shocking number of instances where people failed to do their job properly." [Peterson, "Court-Martial Begins in 'Friendly Fire' Deaths in Iraq", Verhovek, "Air Force Officer Is Acquitted In Downing of Army Aircraft", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 130.]

Actions taken

On September 8, 1994 the DoD announced the actions it would take in response to the investigation's findings. May was charged with 26 counts of negligent homicide by military legal authorities. Martin, Tracy, Wang, Halcli, and Wilson were charged with dereliction of duty. All of those charged faced an Article 32 hearing in which it would be decided if they should be tried by court-martial or the matter disposed of otherwise. Martin, Tracy, Wang, Halcli, and Wilson faced a joint Article 32 hearing while May's hearing was separate. Wickson was not charged. Although not explicitly stated by USAF leaders, it appears that Wickson was not charged but May was because Wickson had testified that he was sure of his identification of the two Black Hawks as hostile Hinds, while May had stated that he was not sure of Wickson's identification but had allowed the engagement to proceed anyway. [Washington, "So, Who's to Blame?", Peterson, "Court-Martial Begins in 'Friendly Fire' Deaths in Iraq", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 151–154, 161, Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 246.]

was a closed hearing and presided over by USAF Colonel Edward M. Starr under the legal jurisdiction of Santarelli. Pilkington, Emery, Richardson, and O'Brien declined requests to testify at either hearing. [Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 246, Novak, "Past Fiasco dims General's new Third Star", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 161–163, 169–172, 177–183, Associated Press, "No Charges Likely Against F-15 Pilot", Washington, "So, Who's to Blame?".]

On November 17, 1994 the USAF announced that Caldwell had recommended to Croker that Wang face court-martial and that Halcli receive nonjudicial administrative action on the dereliction of duty charges. Caldwell recommended that the formal dereliction of duty charges be dropped against the other AWACS crew members, but that they could still face nonjudicial action. Croker accepted Caldwell's recommendation and ordered Wang to face court-martial and dismissed the criminal charges against the other AWACS crew members except Halcli, who was offered Article 15 action. [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 186–188, 196, Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 246, 252.]

At his hearing, May changed his testimony from what he gave to the accident investigation board, stating that he "had" positively identified the two helicopters as Iraqi Hinds. Brigadier General John R. Dallager, an F-15 pilot and Wickson's and May's wing commander (52nd Fighter Wing) and regimental court-martial 303 inquiry officer, stated that he found May's errors in the shootdown "reasonable." [Novak, Robert, "Past Fiasco dims General's new Third Star", reported in Soldiers for the Truth, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 231.] Starr recommended that the charges against May be dropped, stating that he found May's testimony to be believable. [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 183–184.] On December 27, 1994 the USAF announced that Santarelli, an F-15 pilot, had dismissed the charges against May and had decided not to pursue criminal disciplinary actions against any other OPC personnel under his legal jurisdiction, including Wickson, Pilkington, Emery, Richardson, and O'Brien. In January, 1995 a USAF flying board returned Wickson and May, who had been grounded since the incident, to flying status. Subsequently, Wickson was transferred to Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, to undergo instructor pilot training with a follow-on assignment to Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. [Associated Press, "No Charges Likely Against F-15 Pilot", Peterson, "Court-Martial Begins in 'Friendly Fire' Deaths in Iraq", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 186–188, 196, 201, Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 246, 252, Washington, "So, Who's to Blame?".]

, quoted at "Specialist Cornelius A. Bass".] Emery had been promoted to brigadier general on July 15, 1994 and his promotion was allowed to stand. [Sklute, "DoD NewsBriefing"]

Wang's court-martial

Wang's court-martial took place, beginning on June 2, 1995, at Tinker Air Force Base. Wang was tried on three counts of dereliction of duty. Most of the personnel involved in the incident, with the exception of May, were called to testify, including the AWACS crew members, Wickson, and Pilkington. Most of the 40 witnesses testified with a grant of immunity. [Arana-Barradas, "Black hawk incident "tragic series of errors", Chu Lin, "Friendly Fire Doesn’t Shoot Down Wang", Peterson, "Court-Martial Begins in 'Friendly Fire' Deaths in Iraq", Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 247, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 205–213, Verhovek, "Air Force Officer Is Acquitted In Downing of Army Aircraft".]

During the trial, evidence was presented that Wang often had trouble staying awake during AWACS missions. In fact, the problem was considered serious enough that the military had referred Wang to medical authorities to be checked for narcolepsy. Wang had also previously failed two check rides. [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 161, 171.]

Pilkington, an F-16 pilot, testified that as commander of OPC he had sent numerous aircrew members, the majority of them F-15 pilots, back to their home bases for violating OPC rules or procedures or for displaying a lack of good judgement. In response to questions on the F-15 pilot's actions resulting in the shootdown, Pilkington stated, "I don't understand and I will probably never understand Wickson's mindset." When asked if Wickson and May violated OPC rules of engagement in the incident, Pilkington responded, "Yes." AWACS crew members added in their testimonies that once Wickson and May visually identified the helicopters as hostile, all responsibility for the shootdown passed to the F-15 pilots. [Peterson, "Court-Martial Begins in 'Friendly Fire' Deaths in Iraq", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 214–215.]

Frank Spinner, Wang's civilian attorney, argued that USAF Chief of Staff General Merrill McPeak, a career fighter pilot, had made clear that he did not want Wickson and May punished for their actions in the shootdown. Cited as evidence for this was a Los Angeles Times report, published also in the European "Stars and Stripes" newspaper on June 18, 1994 that stated that McPeak "strongly opposed" court-martial action for Wickson or May. Pilkington stated that he had heard rumors that McPeak had said something to that effect, but could not confirm if they were true or not. [Novak, "Past Fiasco dims General's new Third Star", reported in "Soldiers for Truth" and in Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 252, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 119.]

On June 20, 1995 the USAF announced a "nullification" verdict by Wang's 10-member court-martial jury, effectively acquitting Wang of the charges. Nullification is not a finding of innocence, but instead is a refusal to convict on the stated charges. After the verdict, Wang stated, "I want to say the fight is nowhere near over for me. I want a congressional hearing or investigation into why I was the only person charged." [Verhovek, "Air Force Officer Is Acquitted In Downing of Army Aircraft", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 220–221.] Major General Nolan Sklute, the USAF's top legal officer, stated, "An incident like this does not necessarily mean that the conduct of all those involved rises to the level of criminal culpability. I'm satisfied with the handling of the case." [Bacon, "DoD Press Briefing", Verhovek, "Air Force Officer Is Acquitted In Downing of Army Aircraft", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 221.] Secretary of the Air Force Sheila Widnall added, "The Black Hawk helicopters were downed as a result of a tragic series of errors and unfortunate events involving numerous people. The mishap was not the result of any one individual's actions; the conduct of numerous officers and the system itself contributed." [Arana-Barradas, "Black hawk incident "tragic series of errors".]

Additional investigations and actions

On July 17, 1995, U.S. Senator William Roth, chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, authorized a Senate investigation into the incident, primarily in response to complaints from family members of the shootdown victims that it appeared that the U.S. military was not holding anyone seriously accountable for the shootdown. [Verhovek, "Air Force Officer Is Acquitted In Downing of Army Aircraft", Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 251, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 224.] Also in response to complaints about the DoD's response to the incident, the U.S. House of Representatives' Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel scheduled a hearing on the incident for August 3, 1995 to examine the accident investigation and the judicial actions that followed. In addition, on July 24 the DoD ordered the USAF to reexamine the disciplinary and administrative actions for the personnel involved in the shootdown and for the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review the corrective actions taken against those involved and determine whether further action was necessary. Widnall requested that the new USAF chief of staff, Ronald R. Fogleman begin his own review of accountability for the incident. [Washington, "So, Who's to Blame?", Schmitt, "Chief of Air Force Grounds 5 Pilots", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 224, 231–232, Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 251.]

The House hearing on August 3 was presided over by Congressman Bob Dornan and lasted one day. The only USAF members who testified at the hearing were Pilkington and Andrus. Both explained how the USAF accident investigation was conducted and emphasized that Wickson and May violated the OPC rules of engagement by conducting a VID pass of the Black Hawks that was inadequate to determine the helicopter's national origin. Andrus stated, "Sir, as a pilot, I would have made another pass. You would never fire until you know what you are shooting at." [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 70–71, 233–236.]

On August 10, 1995 Fogleman spoke at a press conference at the Pentagon in which he announced the conclusions reached by his review into the accountability of USAF personnel involved in the shootdown incident. He stated that his investigation found that not all of the performance evaluations for the individuals involved in the shootdown reflected the fact that they had received administrative action related to the incident. [Schmitt, "Chief of Air Force Grounds 5 Pilots", GAO, "Operation Provide Comfort"] Fogleman stated,

"The fact that the conduct of some individuals did not give rise to criminal prosecution or conviction should not end the inquiry into the appropriateness of their actions. Air Force standards require that people display the extraordinary discipline, judgement, and training that their duties require and that the American people expect." [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 239–240.]

Fogleman then announced that he had directed that Wickson, May, Wang, Halcli, and Wilson be disqualified from aviation service duties for at least three years. Also, Fogleman wrote and placed "letters of evaluation" in the permanent personnel files of Wickson, May, Wang, Halcli, Wilson, Pilkington, and Emery that stated that each had failed "to meet Air Force standards in job knowledge, judgment and leadership". In addition, a military decoration awarded to O'Brien for his service during OPC was rescinded. A videotape in which Fogleman described his actions related to the incident and his views on standards and accountability was distributed throughout the USAF and all USAF officers, senior non-commissioned officers, and senior executive service civilians were ordered to view it. [Arana-Barradas, "Black hawk incident 'tragic series of errors'", GAO, "Operation Provide Comfort", Schmitt, "Chief of Air Force Grounds 5 Pilots", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 240, Sklute, "DoD NewsBriefing".] Fogleman further stated that he had found that the military justice system had "worked as it was designed to work". [Sklute, "DoD NewsBriefing".]

enate investigation

Beginning in September 1995 and continuing for more than one year, Roth's Senate inquiry into the shootdown, led by Eric Thorson, investigated the incident. Thorson later stated his belief that the USAF accident investigation report and subsequent proceedings had been manipulated in order to avoid holding Wickson and May accountable for their actions. Thorson also stated that he believed that Starr had submitted an inaccurate and misleading report on May's Article 32 hearing to the USAF commanding officers, including Dallager and Santarelli. With regard to the AWACS personnel, Thorson added that, "We know some of the AWACS crew were incompetent beyond belief, and there is more than adequate evidence to conclude that several crewmembers were grossly negligent." [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 243, 247–250, Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 251.]

. [Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 252, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 250–251, Novak, "Past Fiasco dims General's new Third Star"]

After further refusals from the USAF and DoD to provide the four officers for interview, Roth's committee gave the DoD and USAF until 14:30 on October 31, 1996 to provide the officers. The deadline passed without the officers appearing before the board. The next day the board sent senate subpoenas directly to the USAF headquarters office at the Pentagon, which refused to accept them. After learning that the senate was now planning to individually serve the four subpoenas directly to the four officers, the associate chief of the Air Force litigation division accepted the subpoenas. [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 253–254.]

, were asking him to "back off". Thus, Roth decided to drop the matter and continue preparing the report without the testimony of Santarelli, Dallager, Starr, and Mangin. For the first time in U.S. history, the DoD had refused to comply with a U.S. Senate subpoena. [Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 252, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 254–256.]

In January 1997 U.S. Senator Fred Thompson became chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and terminated the Black Hawk investigation. The senate investigation report was never publicly released. Asked in 2001 about the DoD's refusal to honor the Senate subpoenas, Thorson stated, "Basically they told the United States Senate to go to hell." [CBS News, "'A Great Deal Of Arrogance'", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 262–263, Novak, "Past Fiasco dims General's new Third Star"]

GAO investigation

In September 1995 the House National Security Subcommittee on Military Personnel, chaired by Bob Dornan, requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct its own investigation into the shootdown incident. Specifically, the GAO was asked to determine if the USAF accident investigation board had met its objectives, if the subsequent military justice investigations had followed established guidelines, and if the DoD and/or USAF had improperly or unlawfully influenced these investigations. [GAO report, Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 251, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 241–242, Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 65.]

The GAO released its investigation report in November, 1997. The investigation determined that the USAF accident investigation was properly convened and met its assigned objectives. The GAO report, however, found that the USAF investigation had failed to note that Wickson and May neglected to report their contact with unidentified aircraft to the Duke (Martin) aboard the AWACS as required by the ROE. Furthermore, the USAF investigation report incorrectly stated that Martin had no authority to terminate the engagement when, in fact, he did. The GAO report added that the failure of Wickson and May to report their contact to Martin was indicative of a well-known, general lack of discipline among F-15 aircrews involved in OPC and this was not discussed in the USAF report. [GAO, "Operation Provide Comfort", Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 252–253, Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 65.]

The GAO investigation also uncovered evidence that a rivalry between F-15 and F-16 pilots may have contributed to Wickson's and May's "urgency to engage hostile aircraft" but was not discussed in the USAF investigation. [GAO, p. 32–33, discussed in Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 96.] During the GAO's investigation, USAF OPC officers confirmed that the rivalry between the F-15 and F-16 communities was particularly pronounced and intense partly due to the fact that F-16 aircraft had scored all of the air-to-air combat kills in Iraq and Bosnia since the end of the Gulf War. Pilkington stated to the GAO that, "the shootdown pilots' haste was due in part to the planned entry of two F-16s into the TAOR 10 to 15 minutes after the F-15s and that if the F-15 pilots had involved the chain of command, the pace would have slowed down, ruining the pilots' chances for a shootdown." The GAO concluded that if the evidence of a lack of mission discipline by Wickson and May had been included in the USAF report, such information "could have been useful in subsequent administrative and disciplinary actions." [GAO, p. 32–33, discussed in Snook, "Friendly Fire", p. 96, Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 252–253.]

The GAO found no evidence of improper or unlawful command influence by USAF leaders on the investigation or subsequent administrative and military justice actions. The GAO noted, however, that it was unable to obtain complete confirmation of this finding because the DoD denied the GAO request to interview key USAF officials including Santarelli, Dallager, Starr, and Mangin. [Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 252–253, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 251, 262, GAO, "Operation Provide Comfort".]

Compensation

On August 26, 1994, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it would pay U.S.$100,000 in compensation to the families of each of the non-U.S. personnel killed in the incident. At this time, the U.S. government, citing the Feres precedent, did not offer compensation to the families of the U.S. victims. This was the first time that the U.S. had offered compensation to the victims of a friendly fire incident. [Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 51 & 245, Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 145–150.]

In 1998 Congressman Lamar Smith, chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims, held hearings on the compensation issue. He questioned the DoD representatives as to why compensation had not also been offered to the U.S. family members. In November 1999 the U.S. Congress passed legislation authorizing payment of compensation to the families of the American Black Hawk victims. [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 264 & 269, Diehl, "Silent Knights", p. 326.]

Aftermath

Five days after the shootdown, USAF OPC officials began including Black Hawk flight times in the daily ATO and included the correct IFF code in the ATO provided to Eagle Flight. [Washington, "So, Who's to Blame?", GAO, "Operation Provide Comfort"] OPC officially ended on December 31, 1996. Over the six years of the operation, coalition participants flew a total of 62,000 fixed-wing and rotary-wing sorties and delivered sixteen tons of supplies to the Kurdish people. The Black Hawk shootdown was the only serious accident to occur during the operation. [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 258.]

Wickson resigned and May retired from the USAF soon after Fogleman's investigation was completed. [Chu Lin, "Friendly Fire Doesn't Shoot Down Wang", Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 196.] Lawrence Tracy retired immediately after Wang's court-martial on an early (15-year) retirement option. [Piper, "Chain of Events", p. 216.] As of May 2005 Jim Wang was still serving in the USAF but remained at the rank of Captain, having been denied promotion. [Chu Lin, "Friendly Fire Doesn't Shoot Down Wang"] Interviewed in 2005 about the shootdown, Tracy stated, "Jim (Wang) and all of us at first were held up as scapegoats. I think that was to cover up for the pilots. They had their fangs out. They wanted to kill something because it had been ages since an F-15 had shot anything down. We were held accountable for their actions." [Chu Lin, "Friendly Fire Doesn't Shoot Down Wang".]

Andrus retired from the USAF in 1995, Pilkington in 1996, Emery in 1997, and Santarelli in 1998, all at the same rank they held at the time of the shootdown, except Emery, who retired as a brigadier general. Richardson was promoted to brigadier general on July 1, 1999 and retired on September 1, 2001. Dallager was appointed as superintendent of the USAF Academy in June 2000 and was promoted to lieutenant general on August 1 of the same year. Dallager's appointment and promotion were criticized by observers because of his involvement in the controversial shootdown after-actions and refusal to testify for the senate investigation. Dallager retired on September 1, 2003, but at the rank of major general. [Novak, "Past Fiasco dims General's new Third Star", USAF, Official biographies of Andrus, Croker, Dallager, Emery, Pilkington, Richardson, and Santarelli.]

A monument to the 26 victims of the shootdown was constructed at Giebelstadt Army Airfield, Germany in 1996. After U.S. military presence ceased at Giebelstadt, due to base closures, the monument was moved to Fort Rucker, Alabama on March 10, 2006, and rededicated on April 14, 2007.

References

Notes

Books

* cite book
last = Diehl
first = Alan E.
coauthors =
year = 2003
title = Silent Knights: Blowing the Whistle on Military Accidents and Their Cover-Ups
publisher = Potomac Books
location =
id = ISBN 1574885448

*cite book
last = Piper
first = Joan L.
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 2001
chapter =
title = Chain of Events: The Government Cover-up of the Black Hawk Incident and the Friendly-fire Death of Lt. Laura Piper
publisher = Brassey's
location =
id = ISBN 1574883445

*cite book
last = Snook
first = Scott A.
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 2000
chapter =
title = Friendly Fire: The Accidental Shootdown of U.S. Black Hawks over Northern Iraq
publisher = Princeton University Press
location =
id =

Web

*cite web
last = Arana-Barradas
first = Louis A.
year = 1996
url = http://userpages.aug.com/captbarb/blackhawk.html
title = Black hawk incident "tragic series of errors"
format =
work =
accessdate = 2007-02-16

*cite web
last = Associated Press
first =
year = 1994
url = http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/VA-news/VA-Pilot/issues/1994/vp941122/11220782.htm
title = No Charges Likely Against F-15 Pilot
format =
work = THE LEDGER-STAR
accessdate = 2007-02-16

*cite web
last = Bacon
first = Kenneth H.
year = 1995
url = http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=142
title = DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA
format =
work = DefenseLink
accessdate = 2007-03-01

*cite web
last = CBS News
first =
year = 2001
url = http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2001/02/27/national/main274987.shtml
title = 'A Great Deal Of Arrogance'
format =
work = CBS News
accessdate = 2007-11-16

*cite web
last = Chu Lin
first = Sam
year = 2005
url = http://news.asianweek.com/news/view_article.html?article_id=aea7f663e012af10c286641399369d87
title = Friendly Fire Doesn’t Shoot Down Wang
format =
work = AsianWeek.com
accessdate = 2007-02-16

*cite web
last =
first =
year = 1994-2007
url = http://www.efdmmf.org/about.html
title = Eagle Flight Detachment Memorial Monument Friends
format =
work =
accessdate = 2007-02-16

*cite web
last = General Accounting Office (GAO)
first =
year = 1998
url = http://www.fas.org/man/gao/osi-98-013.htm
title = Operation Provide Comfort: Review of U.S. Air Force Investigation of Black Hawk Fratricide Incident
format =
work =
accessdate = 2007-03-01

*cite web
last = Moran
first = Michael
year = 2005
url = http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8815074/
title = Battling friendly fire: Military pins hopes on new technologies as fratricide proves a stubborn foe
format =
work = MSNBC.com
accessdate = 2008-01-01

*cite web
last = Novak
first = Robert
year = 2000
url = http://www.vvof.org/valornews.htm
title = Article 3: Past Fiasco dims General's new Third Star
format =
work = SOLDIERS FOR THE TRUTH
accessdate = 2007-03-01

*cite web
last = Peterson
first = Iver
date = June 3, 1995
url = http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C04E2DB1639F930A35755C0A963958260
title = Court-Martial Begins in 'Friendly Fire' Deaths in Iraq
format = Newspaper article
work = New York Times
accessdate = 2007-12-20

*cite web
last = Schmitt
first = Eric
date = July 1, 1994
url = http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E02E2DD1739F932A35754C0A962958260
title = Copter Deaths: Pentagon Finds Human Failure
format = Newspaper article
work = New York Times
accessdate = 2007-12-20

*cite web
last = Schmitt
first = Eric
date = August 15, 1995
url = http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE0DD163DF936A2575BC0A963958260
title = Chief of Air Force Grounds 5 Pilots
format = Newspaper article
work = New York Times
accessdate = 2007-12-20

*cite web
last = Sklute
first = Nolan
year = 1995
url = http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/1995/t081795_tsklu-81.html
title = DoD NewsBriefing: Major General Nolan Sklute, AF/ SJA
format =
work = DefenseLink
accessdate = 2007-03-01

*cite web
last = United States Air Force
first =
year = 1995
url = http://www.af.mil/library/biographies/bio.asp?bioID=4537
title = Major General James G. Andrus
format =
work = Air Force Link
accessdate = 2007-02-16

*cite web
last = United States Air Force
first =
year = 1996
url = http://www.af.mil/library/biographies/bio.asp?bioID=5116
title = Lieutenant General Stephen B. Croker
format =
work = Air Force Link
accessdate = 2007-02-16

*cite web
last = United States Air Force
first =
year = 2003
url = http://www.af.mil/library/biographies/bio.asp?bioID=5148
title = Lieutenant General John R. Dallager
format =
work = Air Force Link
accessdate = 2007-02-16

*cite web
last = United States Air Force
first =
year = 1997
url = http://www.af.mil/library/biographies/bio.asp?bioID=5352
title = Brigadier General Curtis H. Emery
format =
work = Air Force Link
accessdate = 2007-02-16

*cite web
last = United States Air Force
first =
year = 1996
url = http://www.af.mil/library/biographies/bio.asp?bioID=6765
title = Brigadier General Jeffrey S. Pilkington
format =
work = Air Force Link
accessdate = 2007-02-16

*cite web
last = United States Air Force
first =
year = 2000
url = http://www.af.mil/library/biographies/bio.asp?bioID=6900
title = Brigadier General Douglas J. "Doug" Richardson
format =
work = Air Force Link
accessdate = 2007-02-16

*cite web
last = United States Air Force
first =
year = 1998
url = http://www.af.mil/library/biographies/bio.asp?bioID=7033
title = Lieutenant General Eugene D. Santarelli
format =
work = Air Force Link
accessdate = 2007-02-16

*cite web
last = Verhovek
first = Sam Howe
date = June 21, 1995
url = http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CEFDB1238F932A15755C0A963958260
title = Air Force Officer Is Acquitted In Downing of Army Aircraft
format = Newspaper article
work = New York Times
accessdate = 2007-12-20

*cite web
last = Washington
first = Mark Thomas
year = 1995
url = http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,983112-1,00.html
title = So, Who's to Blame?
format =
work = Time
accessdate = 2007-03-01

*cite web
last = Weiner
first = Tim
date = April 15, 1995
url = http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE1D61F3AF936A25757C0A963958260
title = Court-Martial Nears in Case of Helicopters Shot Down
format = Newspaper article
work = New York Times
accessdate = 2007-12-20

Further reading

*cite web
last = Arlington National Cemetery
first =
year = 2000 – 2006
url = http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/cabass.htm
title = Cornelius A. Bass, Specialist 5th, United States Army
format =
work =
accessdate = 2007-03-01

*cite web
last = Arlington National Cemetery
first =
year = 2000 – 2006
url = http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/jthompso.htm
title = Jerald Lee Thompson: Colonel, United States Army
format =
work =
accessdate = 2007-03-01

*cite web
last = General Accounting Office
first =
month = November | year = 2007
url = http://www.gao.gov/archive/1998/os98004.pdf
title = Operation Provide Comfort: Review of U.S. Air Force Investigation of Black Hawk Fratricide Incident
work =
format = PDF
accessdate = 2008-01-22

* cite book
last = Kern
first = Tony T.
coauthors =
year = 1999
title = Darker Shades of Blue: The Rogue Pilot
publisher = McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
location =
id = ISBN 0070349274

*cite web
last = Ladkin
first = Peter B.
year = 2003
url = http://delivery.acm.org/10.1145/1090000/1082052/p3-ladkin.pdf?key1=1082052&key2=5204272711&coll=&dl=ACM&CFID=15151515&CFTOKEN=6184618
title = Two Causal Analyses of the Black Hawk Shootdown during Operation Provide Comfort
format = PDF
work = Conferences in Research and Practice in Information Technology Series; Vol. 97
accessdate = 2007-03-01


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