Operation Provide Comfort:

Review of U.S. Air Force Investigation of Black Hawk Fratricide Incident

T-OSI-98-13: Published: Jun 18, 1998. Publicly Released: Jun 18, 1998.

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Eljay B. Bowron
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed whether: (1) the Air Force's Aircraft Accident Investigation Board investigation of the April 14, 1994 Black Hawk fratricide incident had met its objectives; (2) the resulting Uniform Code of Military Justice investigations had followed established guidelines; and (3) military officials had improperly or unlawfully influenced these investigations.

GAO noted that: (1) the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board was properly convened and met the objective as set forth in Air Force Regulation 110-14 of conducting an extensive investigation that preserved evidence of the facts surrounding the incident; (2) GAO found that the Board report focused on, among other matters, command and control problems, including individuals' lack of knowledge of specific procedures; (3) the report, however: (a) did not discuss the F-15 pilots' responsibility, under the Airspace Control Order, to report to the Airborne Command Element when encountering an unknown aircraft in the tactical area of responsibility (TAOR), which the pilots did not do; and (b) cited a Combined Forces Air Component Commander's statement that inaccurately portrayed the Airborne Command Element as not having authority to stop the incident, even though evidence that the Airborne Command Element had the authority was available to the Board; (4) further, the Board President erroneously concluded that the Black Hawks' use of an incorrect electronic identification code in the TAOR resulted in the F-15 pilots not receiving an electronic response when they attempted to interrogate the helicopters; (5) additionally, the Board report and opinion did not discuss a perceived general lack of discipline in the F-15 pilot community in Operation Provide Comfort and a perceived urgency by the F-15 pilots to engage during the shootdown, both of which had been raised by family members and others; (6) while an examination of these issues was not required under Air Force Regulation 110-14, the regulation did not preclude it; and GAO found the issues relevant to its review; (7) in response to GAO's inquiries, Operation Provide Comfort officials stated that the pilots' failure on April 14, 1994, to contact the Airborne Command Element was the result of a lack of F-15 mission discipline in Operation Provide Comfort at the time of the incident; (8) in addition, Operation Provide Comfort officials stated that, in their view, there was no reason for the F-15 pilots' urgency to engage; (9) these issues are not inconsistent with the Board President's conclusion regarding the chain of events that led to the misidentification and shootdown of the Black Hawks; and (10) including them in the Board's report, however, may have raised additional questions about the actions and inactions of the F-15 pilots and the Airborne Command Element that could have been useful in subsequent administrative and disciplinary actions.

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