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Reports clear U.S. soldiers in missile incident

From Mike Mount
CNN Washington Bureau

Two reports say U.S. soldiers believed a British Tornado was an enemy missile.
U.S. Army

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. soldiers who shot down a British warplane during the invasion of Iraq believed an enemy missile was heading for them, separate U.S. and British investigations reported.

A U.S. Army Patriot missile hit the British GR4a Tornado over Kuwait as it was returning from a mission over Iraq on March 22, 2003.

The fighter's two crew members did not have a chance to eject and were killed, according to the report.

The plane was shot at by a U.S. Army Patriot missile battery protecting U.S. ground troops.

None of the soldiers were faulted by the reports, which were released May 14.

The heavily edited U.S. report blamed the incident on the British plane's failure to transmit a signal identifying it as a coalition aircraft.

The British report, while coming to the same conclusion, highlighted many weaknesses in the operation and procedures of the Patriot anti-missile system.

British investigators found the Patriot missile system was operating without all of its communications equipment, resulting in a lack of contact with its headquarters, and a limited view of the sky, resulting in "reduced situational awareness," according to the report. (Full story)

The British inspectors also found that rules of engagement for the Patriot missile battery "were not robust enough to prevent a friendly aircraft from being identified as an enemy missile."

The report said the crew had been trained to look for generic threats rather than specific Iraqi threats.

British investigators, unable to find the exact cause for why the jet was not signaling that it was a friendly aircraft, said it was most likely due to a "power supply failure" of which the crew was unaware.

The Patriot missile system was first used during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and was credited with a number of enemy missile shoot-downs. Later analysis found that the Patriots had actually missed most of their targets.

After several billion dollars worth of upgrades, the Patriots hit nine of nine incoming missiles during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, although one also hit a U.S. Navy F-18, killing its pilot. That incident is still under investigation.

U.S. Army officials said they are asking Congress for $43 million in the Defense Department's fiscal year 2005 budget for Patriot upgrades and improvements, including fixing shortfalls identified in the system during the invasion of Iraq.

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