An RAF Tornado which was struck by a US Patriot missile while returning from a sortie over Iraq last year was downed by a 'system error', UK defence minister Ivor Caplin has admitted.
In a written statement, Caplin said that there were several contributory factors which led to the deaths of crewmen Flt Lt Kevin Main and Flt Lt David Williams in March 2003: "Like most aircraft accidents, no single cause was to blame. The board of inquiry has established the causes of this tragic accident and has highlighted the various factors that contributed to it."
These factors include failure of the aircraft's "identification friend or foe" (IFF) system and the "wide classification criteria" of the patriot's anti-radiation missile recognition system.
Put simply, the Tornado failed to identify itself as friendly, and was then classified as an enemy rocket by the Patriot battery, which promptly shot it down.
Furthermore, an inquiry into the incident "painted a picture of inexperienced US troops, heavily reliant on technology to make decisions, but lacking crucial equipment which could have helped them identify the Tornado as a friendly aircraft".
Mr Caplin summed up by saying that the board of inquiry "has established the causes of this tragic accident and has highlighted the various factors that contributed to it. The board's recommendations are now being implemented". ®