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IFF failed on British Tornado

You may remember this sad incident in the opening days of the Iraq Campaign: a US Patriot battery engaged and shot down a returning British Tornado. The official report on the incident is finally out:

IFF failure led to destruction of RAF Tornado


A Royal Air Force (RAF) Board of Inquiry investigating the destruction of an RAF Tornado GR.4A by a US Army Patriot missile during the March 2003 invasion of Iraq has concluded that the aircraft’s identification friend-or-foe (IFF) system had failed. However, it also criticised the missile-classification criteria used by the Patriot system, and the US Army’s Patriot rules of engagement, firing doctrine and crew training.
[Jane’s Missiles and Rockets – 28 June 2004]

If any of our readers has a link to a pdf of the original report – if such exists – I would be happy to include it here.

Editor: Kudos to Julian Taylor for the link to the MoD pdf file.

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6 comments to IFF failed on British Tornado

  • Julian Taylor

    As an interesting aside to that, an article in April in the Daily Telegraph(Link) makes the point that numerous aircraft were incorrectly identified by Patriot crews as incoming ballistic missiles.
    I recall reading somewhere many pilots have a tendency to switch off their IFF transponders when over enemy territory, presumably to prevent enemy AA radar using the IFF systems to track them.

  • Julian Taylor

    Oops, I forgot to add the pdf link. It’s here at MoD Files.

  • I had thought that Iraqi radar had been pretty we surpressed. Turning off the IFF system in order to avoid it does not add up.

    Most IR guided missiles and most AAA were not aimed by radar but either by guess and by God or by some sort of IR system. Turning on a Radar was a good way to get killed.

  • Stevely

    I never had anything to do with air defense when I was in the military, but it was my understanding that IFF systems did not constantly transmit a signal that could be easily detected and triangulated by the enemy, but rather they would return a signal only when interrogated by another aircraft’s or SAM battery’s IFF equipment.

  • Alan Massey

    Steveley is correct, IFF only responds when it receives the correct signals. Though I guess this can give you away if a friendly aircraft “pings” you, and the enemy pick up your IFF systems’ response.

    The only way for IFF to be a really serious danger to our pilots is if the enemy manages to get access to the codes. The US managed to break the Soviet IFF system during the Vietnam war, and began fitting their F-4s with a system called “Combat Tree”, or AN/APX-80/81, from 1971. This allowed them to locate & identify the North Vietnamese MIGs at long ranges, even before they took off, and to use their long range AIM-7 missiles to full effect. Before this the US pilots had been forced visually identify their targets before firing, giving away a huge advantage.
    But I doubt our pilots purposly turned off their IFF systems over Iraq, the main danger was being misidentified and engaged by the numerous Allied fighters.

  • sdk

    numerous aircraft were incorrectly identified by Patriot crews as incoming ballistic missiles.

    I think it would be more accurate that the Patriot identified the aircraft as targets. IIRC, the Patriot system was originally created as an anti-aircraft system (and “detuned” to conform to the ABM treaty). It seems unlikely that particular capability would be removed; “we can blow away missiles but any plane’s gonna nail us”?