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Red range from another view.

It was the final day of Air Wing Fallon, and I was scheduled to take one of our nuggets out to shoot rockets on a moving-vehicle target (MVT) in B-20. I was also scheduled to employ a GBU-54(I) inert-laser JDAM. I had flown a detached pop hop in B-17 a few days earlier with the same nugget, and he had done very well, hitting his target with no switchology errors on all passes.

We launched from Fallon and checked in over the target with the strike coordination and reconnaissance/ armed reconnaissance (SCAR/AR). We received our talk-on to the MVT, and using the briefed waypoint, I captured the target on the FLIR within a few seconds. When I called captured, my wingman let me know that his FLIR was down with no video over AUX. We stayed in formation as I set up for the attack on the target.

As I validated my system prior to release, it became clear that the weapon had failed, and I would be unable to drop until the weapon had been troubleshot. I informed my wingman that he would attack the target first while I worked on my system. I began a talk-on.

Using Lone Rock as an anchor point, I described the tracks as being west and oriented parallel and running north to south. I intended to bound the west side of the tracks with the large improved road to the west of the tracks. However, my wingman immediately called contact of the tracks, and the waypoints from our mission

planning were accurate for the north and south sides of the tracks.

Once I had my wingman's eyes on the tracks, I then described the MVT target. I told my wingman to descend to get eyes on to the MVT on the track. After a few minutes of talking back and forth, my wingman told me that he was tally the MVT flowing south. I looked out the cockpit and saw him in formation, about one mile abeam, and cleared him to roll in on his dry pass. I went heads down in the cockpit to capture the MVT using the FLIR, moving-target track mode, and began to troubleshoot my weapon.

My wingman called in dry and off safe. I looked out and saw that he was in a left hand turn, flowing away from the target about two miles away. I then set an orbit over the MVT to ensure that I captured BHA, because we were preparing for combat, where we would need video of weapon hits. I knew that my wingman would be unable to record his battle-hit assessment (BHA) without a FLIR.

On the next attack, I was cross circle from my wingman as he called in. I had the MVT captured in narrow field of view (NFOV). My wingman aborted the next pass for parameters and then rolled in a third time. I was focused on getting BHA for the attack. My wingman called off safe, but there were no hits within the NFOV. I came up on AUX and my wingman told me he had employed two rockets, but they had hit long. I then opened the FOV of my FLIR to find the spots. About one minute later my wingman rolled in for his fourth and final attack. Again, I heard off safe. This time my FOV was significantly larger, but there was still no spot.

Before I could make a call on AUX, range control called a red range and directed that we discontinue our attacks. Our flight then checked out of the range and returned to the field. I had a sickening feeling, knowing that rockets had been employed, and also knowing that they had not landed on the MVT track.

IN THE DEBRIEF IT BECAME CLEAR that my wingman had employed five inert rockets against a backup MVT that was parked about three miles from the MVT track. When we checked in and the FLIR was reported as down for video, it was in fact in bit. Without a FLIR during the initial talk on, my wingman had reverted to purely visual target talk on. Because I did not bound the target area and allowed my wingman to confirm contact on two dirt tracks, I had failed to recognize that he had padlocked two parking areas used to store the MVTs when not in use. The parking tracks were about a tenth of the length of the actual tracks and were on the west side of the improved road that ran north to south through the complex. They were about 300 meters south of the manned spotting tower on the range.

When my wingman told me that he was tally a MVT flowing south, and was in combat spread over the actual target, I allowed myself to believe that he had found the only MVT moving on the range, which was on the actual target track. Instead, having found the briefed truck and sled in the storage area which was oriented to the south, he had convinced himself that the stationary truck was moving very slowly.

Having lost the opportunity to determine there was an issue with my wingman's target acquisition through comm and an effective talk-on, I then missed the opportunity to prevent disaster by going heads down at the worst possible moment. My wingman rolled in and continued to turn an additional 50 degrees on the spacer pass. Noticing that the waypoint in his system did not match the briefed target location, he selected an undesignated delivery profile. On the aborted run, while we were still in a formation and attack geometry that made sense for the actual MVT, he again turned over 50 degrees past the target, putting him outside the briefed run-in restrictions. On the third pass, I again failed to watch his roll-in parameters. He had split from the formation by about 2.5 miles and rolled-in to employ on the wrong target.

When I did not see a spot on the deck, I should have immediately ended the engagement of the target. But, I convinced myself that it was my error in capturing BHA because I had used too small a FOV and the inert rockets were simply difficult to pick up on the sensor after the fact.

As the flight lead, I am ultimately responsible for everything that occurs on the flight. Looking back at the event, several actions could have broken this chain of events:

I should have spent more time in the brief covering the overall range space and layout, instead of assuming that the mass brief and preflight study by my wingman would be adequate.

I should have ensured that I prioritized QA of safe delivery parameters over capturing BHA.

I should not have assumed that an aborted run was due to mechanics in the aircraft rather than difficulty in target acquisition.

I should have immediately called a knock-it-off (KIO) when no ordnance was seen on the FLIR after the first delivery.

We were very fortunate in this incident that no one was hurt or killed. The tower north of the spare MVT was manned at the time of the flight, and the personnel in the tower heard thuds after the first attack. Not knowing what had caused the noise, one of the people in the tower actually walked outside in the direction of the sound before the final attack run and saw three additional rockets land about 200 meters away.

While personal preparation for flights is critically important, we can never lose sight of the difference in ability and experience between pilots. I failed my wingman on this flight and learned a valuable lesson: never assume. Aviation is a profession in which failures, while being statistically rare, have severe and catastrophic consequences. We can never afford to drop our guard.

LCDR. PETERSON FLIES WITH VFA-146.

BY LCDR. JOHN PETERSON
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Title Annotation:PERCEIVED PRESSURE; firing rockets on a moving-vehicle target
Author:Peterson, John
Publication:Approach
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2013
Words:1318
Previous Article:Red range.
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