Air Weapons: March 28, 2002


An analysis has confirmed that the December incident in which a US bomb killed three US soldiers and a number of Afghan allies was the result of an operator error of the GPS used to determine the target's location. The error is understandable, and would even be funny except that people were killed. An Air Force combat controller (forward observer) was on the front lines spotting targets. He used a Precision Lightweight GPS (which the troops call a "plugger") to calculate the target location. A few minutes before the deadly mistake, he used his PLGPS to determine the target's location in degrees, minutes, and seconds so it could be attacked by Navy F-18s. Then, he recalculated the position in "decimal fractions of a degree" which is the way that the Air Force wants it. The battery was low, so he replaced it, unaware that the PLGPS is programmed to calculate its own position when turned on. In a moment of confusion, he gave these coordinate (i.e., his own) to the B-52 bomber that dropped the fatal missile instead of the target coordinates. The Pentagon has said that this episode indicates that the troops need more training with their equipment before using it in combat, as the troops were not as familiar with the newly-issued gear as they should have been.--Stephen V Cole


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