Murphy's Law: Sue The Bastards

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December 30, 2007: The manufacturer of the U.S. Patriot anti-aircraft missile admitted, under oath in court, that the Patriot radar and IFF (Identify, Friend or Foe) system was having problems in early 2003, that the army knew about the problems, but that the system was sent to Iraq anyway. There, the Patriots shot down nine Iraqi ballistic missiles, as well as two friendly aircraft (because the Patriot IFF system erroneously identified them as enemy). The admission of the IFF problem came in a law suit brought by the family of the dead American pilot (the other aircraft was British). Normally, you can't sue for this sort of thing, but if you can find a sympathetic judge, the case can make some progress. The family is seeking $20 million from the manufacturer of the Patriot system. The government has "sovereign immunity" (cannot be sued for screw-ups), and that defense is pretty solid with the courts. While the military is technically responsible for "accepting" a weapon for service, the current lawsuit seeks to hold the manufacturer responsible after the fact. Many, if not most, weapons go to war with known flaws. There's no way around this, because weapons can't get a really effective workout short of an actual war, and defects are a side effect of having the most advanced, and deadly, systems.

 


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