A Navy fighter jet accidentally shot down during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq had been misidentified by two Army Patriot missile batteries as an incoming Iraqi missile, a military investigation has found.
Soldiers also violated standard procedures involving the launch of the missiles, the investigation determined, but a summary of the inquiry released Friday provided no more detail.
The fighter’s pilot, Lt. Nathan White, 30, of Mesa, Ariz., was killed over Iraq on April 2, 2003, as he flew his F/A-18C Hornet back to his aircraft carrier, USS Kitty Hawk. A summary of the investigation’s findings was posted on the U.S. Central Command’s Web site Friday.
It does not say why the Patriot batteries wrongly identified White’s aircraft. The batteries, which include several radar vehicles and missile launchers, both reported to a command center they had detected an incoming Iraqi missile.
Based on this, the command center staff “had to quickly launch a countermissile capable of successfully intercepting the Iraqi missile,” the investigation report says. “The (command center) ordered the targeted battery to launch status and two Patriot interceptor missiles were launched. However, proper procedures for obtaining launch status were violated in the process.”
The Patriots that downed White were defending the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, which was driving north near Karbala and about 50 miles from the Iraqi capital.
Navy officials told White’s father the pilot radioed he saw the two missiles launch — a pair of white flashes in his night-vision equipment. White tried to evade them, but in less than 10 seconds they had destroyed his plane, his father said in interviews last year. White’s wingman, in another F/A-18, returned to the carrier safely.
Other incidents with Patriot
The U.S. military has investigated two other friendly fire incidents that involved the Patriot during the invasion:
- A Patriot battery shot down a British Tornado GR4A near the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border on March 22, 2003, killing both crew members. This was blamed on failure of the electronic system designed to identify the aircraft as friendly.
- Two days later, a U.S. F-16 pilot fired a missile at a Patriot battery, believing the radar had targeted his plane. The missile damaged the Patriot radar, but nobody was hurt.
U.S. Central Command officials say Patriots downed at least 10 of the 17 missiles fired at Kuwait. Overall, the United States fired 22 Patriots during the war, White House budget chief Mitchell Daniels told National Public Radio.
During the 1991 Gulf War, the military and Raytheon, the Patriot’s manufacturer, also claimed high success — up to 80 percent — with earlier versions of the Patriot.
Congress’ General Accounting Office later found Patriots intercepted no more than four of 47 Iraqi Scud missiles, a 9 percent success rate. The Pentagon has spent more than $3 billion improving the Patriots since then.