Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Unfriendly fire

The yank bashers have been having the time of their life over the inquest into the death of Matty Hull, the British soldier killed when his Scimitar was attacked by US A-10 Thunderbolts.

The usual comments - gung-ho, macho, stupid - have been applied to the American pilots who made the attack, followed by accusations of the a cover-up by the US Department of Defense Department and claims that they've let down their most faithful allies in some parts of the press for not releasing the video of the attack which, despite not being declassified by the US, was released into the public domain by the British press.

Most of the people who are making these accusations and comments about the US and their pilots don't have a clue what they are talking about. I'm not going to pretend that I've got combat experience as a pilot either, but having seen the tape and read the reports I feel I have to speak up in defence of these pilots and the USA.

First of all, friendly fire incidents ALWAYS happen in wars. There is no way they can be completely avoided. It's not possible It becomes even more difficult when two different armed forces are co-operating. Not just different nationalities, but different branches of the armed forces from the same nation. When you start having one branch of one nation's armed forces working with an entirely different branch of a different nations armed forces, then it gets really messy. These sort of incidents are not just likely - they are inevitable.

Secondly, having seen the tape and read the (varying) transcripts, I can not see how blame can be attached to the pilots. They checked with their ground control, they mentioned the orange panels and they made an effort to identify the vehicles. I'm not sure what more they could do. Once the red smoke was released they called off the attack and were utterly grief stricken by what had happened. There will undoubtedly have been adrenalin, excitement and nerves, but there was nothing gung-ho, nothing macho and certainly nothing "stupid" about their behaviour.

It was a mistake, it was terrible - but that is the nature of war. Could they have done more to avoid the error? Some newspapers have claimed that they should have made a low level pass to more clearly identify the vehicles. Suppose they had done and it turned out that they were Iraqi? One of the problems with war is that the enemy tend to shoot back and, unlike the computer games that are the nearest most journalists get to combat experience, when the enemy shoot back you can get killed. All I can say to those journalists is how would you fancy making a low speed, low level pass over something that might well blow you to smithereens? An aeroplanes biggest defences against ground fire are height and speed. You can be low and fast or high and slow, but you better not be low and slow if the enemy know you are around. A shoulder fired SAM will knock you out of the air and you'll be diving into the ground before you know it. You probably won't even have time to crap your pants.

Thirdly, you need to ask yourself why it was US planes? We've all heard someone say "it's always the yanks", but why is it always the yanks? Forget all the jokes for a minute, the fact is that even the US don't let some dopey hick into a multi-million dollar high-tech aircraft if they are dumb-ass stupid. Quite often, the people most critical of the pilots are people who would simply never, ever qualify to be allowed to pilot something like an A-10. The real reason that "it's always the yanks" is because we - that is our armed forces - rely so heavily on US air support for our troops.

The RAF is a shadow if itself and barely worthy of the name "Force" these days. We don't have anything like the A-10 in the RAF inventory. It's ability to loiter and attack targets of opportunity are beyond the reach of anything we have. We're great at hitting stationery ground targets - air bases, fuel depots, communications shacks - that sort of thing, but we have nothing capable of providing close air support to fast moving ground troops like the A-10. With all the focus on this incident, it will have been forgotten that A-10 pilots will have pulled our soldiers fat out of the fire on numerous occasions. Considerably more British troops would have been killed in action if we didn't have US air support - especially from the A-10. We ought to consider that before we go knocking these "stupid, gung-ho, macho" pilots.

Finally, one of the most annoying things about the newspaper coverage, is that the papers that have been most vociferous and critical about the "US cover up" are the same ones who criticise our MOD for leaving our troops to be hung out to dry by lawyers when things go wrong. The US support and protect their servicemen and women. They will have their own stringent and thorough investigation and will learn the lessons from what happened. If there has been a breach of regulations or discipline they will punish those responsible - internally. What they won't do is hand them over to the baying press pack or craven lawyers.

If you were a soldier, sailor or airman - what would you prefer? An MoD who fail to provide you with the weapons, equipment and resources you need, sends you off to fight a war with one arm tied behind your back and then, when you make a mistake, wash their hands of you and hand you over to the lawyers.

Or a DoD that will give you the very best equipment, facilities, weapons and resources they can. That will support you when you need it. Protect you when you need it and will do the damndest to make sure that the men and women who risk their lives for their country are confident that they will not be abandoned when things go wrong.

I know which I'd prefer. Just think about this for a moment. Consider the next time a British patrol in Afghanistan finds itself under heavy fire and needs close air support. Who could blame the yanks if they were to turn around and say "Uh huh. You're on your own buddy!"

They won't, of course.


RottyPup said...

I'm in 110% agreement with everything you say. It's good to hear someone talking sense about this incident.

"They checked with their ground control, they mentioned the orange panels and they made an effort to identify the vehicles. I'm not sure what more they could do."

The British convoy was also headed toward a village. The context here is that the pilots were trying to avoid the Iraqi civilian casualties which would have occurred if hostiles with missile launchers had to be dislodged from said village. This explains why the pilots didn't want to just fly away.

"The US support and protect their servicemen and women"

The US position is actually stronger than just 'choosing' to protect their guys -- The assurance not to turn their names over to any foreign power which might start criminal proceedings against them is actually written into their contracts. IIRC, the airmen in question could actually sue the DOD for breach-of-contract if they'd released the video.

Stan said...

Cheers, Rottypup.

The point about the village and civilian casualties is a very good one and one that I must admit I missed.

Contractual or not, the US treat their armed forces the way they should. Our MoD are shoddy in comparison, to say the least.

But worse than that is the way the newspapers who have called for our servicemen and women to be treated better are now demanding that the US DoD behave more like the MoD.