Information Warfare: August 10, 2005


Recent news coverage of brake problems with the U.S. Navy F-18 warplane shows how easy it can be to turn what is, in reality, a minor problem, into what appears to be a major problem. The press has reported that there are concerns about the F-18 brakes after two dozen incidents since 1990. However, a little more digging, and understanding how the military classifies accidents reveals that there is more to the story than meets the eye.

First, one needs to realize that some media outlets cut down the original Associated Press article (often to as few as three paragraphs), and this often resulted in a loss of context. For instance, the longer version of the article shown in some news outlets reveals that these 24 incidents have occurred over a period of fifteen years, and even then there has been only two Class A mishaps (in which the aircraft is destroyed, suffers more that $1 million in damage, or a fatality is involved), one of which was in September, 2004. In at least three other occasions, the damage was at least $200,000 but not over $1 million (these are labeled Class B mishaps this level of mishap also covers incidents which result in permanent disability or if five or more personnel are hospitalized). 

Class C mishaps are $10,000 and below $200,000 or when someone misses a day of work. These Class C mishaps at worst - cover the rest of the accidents (in at least one case, there was no damage to the plane the plane landed using its tailhook to catch an emergency wire on the runway).

In these accidents involving the Hornets brakes, only one pilot was seriously injured, with one other pilot requiring an overnight hospital stay. This is out of 561 Hornets in service with the Navy and Marine Corps, and covering nearly four million flight hours from Fiscal Year 1990 through Fiscal Year 2004. And the total of Class A mishaps the media has traced to the brakes is small two out of 124 Class A mishaps involving the F/A-18 in that same time period (or just under 2 percent). The last reported incident was in February.

A number of these incidents have been made worse by what seems to be a lack of training. In at least one of the major incidents, the pilots were not following proper procedures to activate the emergency brakes. The Navy already began conducting inspections on the brake cable, and also has discovered some deficiencies in the training of Hornet pilots. 

The Navy has been on top of this problem, and has been inspecting each of the Hornets in the force. In essence, the press is a year late on the problem, and has given short shrift to the fact that the military is already addressing the basic problem. Harold C. Hutchison (


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