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Profile: Tony Mason
Tony Mason was a participant or observer in the following events:
Tornado fighter plane similar to the one shot down by a US Patriot battery. [Source: Army-Technology (.com)]The Patriot missile defense system, so famous from iconic video footage shot during the 1991 Gulf War (see Mid-1991), destroys a British Tornado jet fighter in mid-flight, killing both of its crew members. The Tornado is in friendly airspace, is alone, and had already completed its mission and released its weapons, when the Patriot mistakes the Tornado for an enemy missile and destroys it. US military spokesmen explain the incident as due to a “computer glitch.” Originally built to shoot down aircraft, its manufacturer, Raytheon, modified it just before the 1991 Gulf War to shoot down tactical ballistic missiles. When the Army deployed Patriot batteries in Iraq, the crews quickly realized there were problems with the system. The Tornado is just the first of an array of problems manifested by the Patriot. The Tornado’s mission should have gone smoothly, according to retired Air Vice Marshal Tony Mason, who will advise an upcoming British Parliamentary inquiry into the shoot down. “They had fulfilled their mission and they were returning without weapons back to base.”
US Officials Misleading British? - Mason does not believe the Army’s “computer glitch” story. “If the system is confusing missiles with planes, that is just not just a minor glitch. The two are so different, that it’s difficult really to imagine a system could do that.” One of the biggest problems with the Patriot system is that it is completely automated: it tracks airborne objects, identifies them, decides whether or not to fire, and, if its operator does not override the machine in a very few seconds, fires. Reporter Robert Riggs, embedded with a Patriot battery, will recall, “This was like a bad science fiction movie in which the computer starts creating false targets. And you have the operators of the system wondering is this a figment of a computer’s imagination or is this real. They were seeing what were called spurious targets that were identified as incoming tactical ballistic missiles. Sometimes, they didn’t exist at all in time and space. Other times, they were identifying friendly US aircraft as incoming TBMs.” A US Army report will find that “various Patriot locations throughout the theater” routinely identify “spurious TBMs”—tactical ballistic missiles that didn’t exist. Most of the time, the Patriot computers correct the mistake on their own. Sometimes, they do not. Riggs will recall, “We were in one of the command posts. And I walked in and all the operators and officers are focused intently on their screens. And so you know something’s going on here. And suddenly the door flies open, and a Raytheon tech representative runs in and says, ‘Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!’ Well, that got our attention real quick.”
Systematic Problems - Two days later, a US F-16 destroys a Patriot battery that mistakenly targeted it (see March 25, 2003). Eight days after that, a US Navy pilot dies when Patriot missile fire destroys his plane (see April 2, 2003). Reporters find that the Patriot has had systematic problems in identifying friendly and hostile targets since 1991 (see June 27, 2003). [Carter, 2004, pp. 52; CBS News, 6/27/2004]
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