Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Something's happening, but you don't know what it is..

What a sick business the affair of the A-10A tapes is turning into. Recap: the inquest into the deaths of the Household Cav soldiers killed by a US airstrike in Iraq in the spring of 2003 had learned that the MOD's own board of inquiry, which sat in secret, had heard a cockpit voice recorder tape from the aircraft that killed them. However, as the US Air Force classified it secret, it could not be released, even though a copy arrived at the court.

Then, strange things happen. First of all, the coroner says he'll play it anyway. Then, the transcript appears in a national newspaper this morning. Which national newspaper? Ye gods, the Sun. This is, well, out of character, to say the least. Something odd seems to be happening over there - since we last discussed them, they have come out against various manifestations of the surveillance-bureaucratic complex, something they never used to do. And now this - a defence story that isn't OUR BOYS GLURBY ONTOS 4 BLISS, and throws direct discredit on the Americans.

It's pretty damn discreditable, too. The transcript reveals every failure you can think of, and then some. Apart from a drastic lack of situational awareness on the part both of the A10 pilots and a controller callsign "Manila Hotel", there is some hopeless vehicle recognition - they took the Scimitar CVRTs for ZIL flatbed trucks - and desperate human factors issues. The mis-recognition comes only after "Manila" had suggested that no friendly forces were in the area, thus helping form a perceptual fix. Progressive target fixation sets in. Even though the pilots spot the orange panels on the turrets of the Scimitars, a NATO standard recognition mark, the formation leader rationalises it away and neither the other pilot, nor the controller, says anything.

Neither does anyone communicate with another US Marine ANGLICO forward air controller on the ground until he comes up on the net, after it's too late, to stop the attack. A British FAC wasn't heard because the A10s, "Manila Hotel", and the Marine FAC ("Lightning 34") had changed to another frequency. After the strike, it's clear they knew they'd fucked up - not only does one say "we're going to jail", but they keep saying they thought the orange panel was a "rocket".

But there is always one solution that works. Guess whose contract won't be renewed? Apparently they only took the coroner, Andrew Walker, on because of a "backlog" of military inquests in Oxfordshire. Backlog? So, there aren't going to be any more corpses coming into Brize Norton? Can we have that in writing?

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