Formal Investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Downing of Iran Air Flight 655 on 3 July 1988/First Endorsement

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UNITED STATES CENTRAL COMMAND
OFFICE OF THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, FLORIDA 33608-7001

5 August 1988

FIRST ENDORSEMENT on Rear Admiral Fogarty's ltr of 28 July 1988

 
From: Commander in Chief, United States Central Command
To: Secretary Of Defense
Via: Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
 
Subj: FORMAL INVESTIGATION INTO THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE DOWNING OF IRAN AIR FLIGHT 655 ON 3 JULY 1988 (U)

1.(U) Readdressed and forwarded.

2.(U) The proceedings of the investigation and findings of fact are approved. The opinions and recommendations are approved except as noted below.

U
a. Opinions. (S) Opinion E.1: Approved with the qualification that regardless of the validity of early identification by the Ships's Signal Exploitation Space (SSES), the Identification Supervisor (IDS) identified the aircraft as "mode II-1100, breaks as F-14," and the aircraft was entered into the system as an F-14, thus forming a positive, authoritative identification.

Rationale: SSES denied making the report and IDS confirmed his identification.

b. Recommendations:

(1) (U) Recommendation A.1: Disapproved.

Rationale: See paragraph 4.b. U
(2) (S) Recommendation A. 2: Approved with the additional suggestion that the Chief of Naval Operations consider instituting a program for Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (C3I) stress management to test and evaluate the impact of human stress on C3I operations in complex modern warships such as the AEGIS Cruiser. Integral to this program would be the incorporation of measures of human effectiveness into battle simulation techniques to assess the effect of peak overloads and stress on the human players. Rationale: High level of responsibility and stress associated with these sophisticated ships require assigned personnel possess the highest personal suitability. U
(3) (S) Recommendation A.3: Disapproved. Rationale: Appropriate matters contained in the proposed demarche are being handled through ICAO channels. (4) (U) Recommendation A.6: Disapproved.

Rationale: The revised warning as promulgated by CJTFME is adequate. 3.(U) The following additional opinions concerning the more contentious issues in the investigation are offered in order to provide a sharper focus and my thinking on these issues.

a. (U) A major consideration in reviewing the report is the time compression within which the actions described in the investigation took place. Only seven minutes and five seconds elapsed between the time Iran Air Flight 655 was first detected by USS VINCENNES and the decision made to fire the missiles. The Captain of USS VINCENNES was made aware of a possible incoming threat aircraft, some four minutes before the decision to fire. Captain Rogers actual decision window was confined to less than one minute when the suspect aircraft was approaching to within ten miles of the sip.

b. (U) The report substantiates that a Mode II-1100 Identification. Friend or Foe System (IFF) signal was received on USS VINCENNES through the Remote Control Indicator (RCI). This signal was received only once in the first minutes of the Iran 655 flight and never received again. It was not picked up by the ship's SPY-1 Radar System. While the source of this signal cannot be verified, the possibility of emanation through the "ducting" phenomenon from a military aircraft on the ground at Bandar Abbas appears plausible.

c. (U) Although the initial identification of the incoming aircraft as an F-14 is in question, it was clearly identified by the IDS operator, , as "Mode II-1100, breaks as F-14." From that moment on the Anti-Air Warfare Coordinator's (AAWC) organization, most especially the Tactical Information Coordinator (TIC),  and the Golf Whiskey (Force Anti-Air Warfare Coordinator, who was  , were convinced the incoming aircraft was an F-14, despite the fact that the Mode II IFF signal did not reappear and the ship's SPY-i Radar System only held Mode III 6760.

d. (U) The matter of ascending and descending altitude of Flight 655 deserves special attention as there is a direct contradiction between the data tapes obtained from USS VINCENNES and the situation report submitted by USS VINCENNES to the Commander, Joint Task Force Middle East (JTFME) following the engagement.

(1) (U) The primary source for the reports that the aircraft of interest was rapidly decreasing in altitude, at 1,000 feet per mile, and increasing speed on a course directly toward USS VINCENNES was the TIC, . He apparently interjected these reports on the ship's Command Communication Circuit 15 every time he had the opportunity "to make sure they were staying informed and... [not] getting too sidetracked by the surface engagement where they were forgetting about the guy coming in." This assessment by   cannot be logically explained in that his battle station's character read out (CRO) would have been showing an exact opposite profile of steadily increasing altitude. Clearly,  could not have been reporting from the data displayed on the CRO. The most reasonable explanation is contained in the report by   that his behavior was induced by a combination of physiological fatigue, combat operations, stress and tension which can adversely affect performance and mission execution. As states, "The concept of 'scenario fulfillment' could seem as applying in this case." Since   has no doubt that the aircraft is an Iranian F-14, heading toward the ship, and is not acknowledging repeated warnings, "the mind may reject incongruent data and facilitate misperception which promote internal consistency."   mental agitation is reflected in his testimony that he took it upon himself to take "every open spot" he was getting on Circuit 15 to ensure "everyone up in the command decision area was informed, kept aware of what was going on in case they got sidetracked by other events." Toward the end it is reported he was yelling out loud.

(2) (U)   acting as the principal Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) advisor to the Commanding Officer, apparently accepted   reports of descending altitude and increasing speed at face value without further evaluation on his part from the CRO at his position and, passed the assessment on to the Captain, which in-turn had a direct bearing on the decision to fire.   states he "came to the realization that data to me doesn't mean anything, because I reacted to people that I thought that. . .I knew that I had operated with that were reliable. . .and when they reported at short range they had a decreasing altitude, increasing speed, I had no reason to doubt them."

e. (U) As to the Commanding Officer's conduct, I support the investigation officer's opinion that Captain Rogers made the correct decision to fire given the facts which he had available to him and the short time to make the decision.

(1) (U) Captain Rogers had temporarily changed his ship's battle doctrine for the Persian Gulf by directing his best officer in AAW to sit in the "Golf Whiskey" (or Forces Anti-Air Warfare) position to the left of him in the Command and Decision area. He relied on this officer,   to maintain and direct the anti-air warfare picture, provide him with funneled information from the AAWC and, make recommendations upon which the Captain could make a decision as to employment of the ship's weapon systems. Captain Rogers had the highest confidence in the ability of   backed up by the facts that   had served aboard USS VINCENNES for five years, was a fully qualified AAWC, and had participated in training and execution exercises under the "Golf Whiskey" organization. Captain Rogers exercise of "command by negation"

placed an even greater reliance on the information and recommendations received from   as he did not as a practice deal with his CRO relying rather on the information from operators who, as he states, were trained better than he to read a CRO.
  • (U) The first information given to Captain Rogers by   was that there was an inbound F-14 on a closing course which was not responding to challenges. He apparently was also told that the aircraft had veered from its route and appeared to be moving to an attack position. Such a scenario would not have seemed unreasonable to the Captain as he was well aware of the F-I4 activity from Bandar Abbas, warning of possible Iranian attack over the holiday weekend, threat of suicide aircraft and the other background which is well described in the report. Based on the information he had received from  , Captain Rogers came to the initial conclusion that the aircraft was displaying hostile intent and requested and received permission to engage at 20 miles if the air threat did not respond to warnings. Despite the request from   to engage at 20 miles, Captain Rogers elected to hold off based on a lack of Electronic Warfare (EW) correlation.
  • {U) During the three minutes remaining before the decision was made to fire, Captain Rogers was preoccupied with the ongoing small boat engagement and a foul bore in Mount 51. He believed the most immediate threat to the ship was the difficulty of USS VINCENNES to deal with dense, aggressive, high speed small craft attempting to press home an attack. His primary focus, Large Screen Display (LSD) and hook were on and remained on the small craft engagement. Thus, he continued to rely upon the verbal assessments from   as to the extent and nature of the air threat.
  • (U) As the aircraft entered the 10 mile range from USS VINCENNES, the Captain was forced to make a decision. He had been told that: The aircraft is not responding to warnings; not acting like a commercial aircraft; the IFF mode and code were indicative of an Iranian military aircraft; and, most importantly, that the aircraft was decreasing in altitude, increasing in speed and on a closing flight profile with USS VINCENNES. As Captain Rogers says in his testimony, "... my confidence in   confirmed to me that the aircraft was, in fact, a threat." With these assessments and the aircraft now at nine miles from USS VINCENNES, the Captain believed he could no longer delay in defending his ship and made the decision to engage - a decision which had to be made in a minute or less.
  • (U) One might criticize the Captain for not devoting more attention to the air picture, but this is judgmental. Captain Rogers believed the most immediate threat to his ship was the small boats and he could count on the advice of   to keep him informed, and should the circumstance arise the AAW capabilities of USS VINCENNES were such that he could execute a timely and successful engagement.
  • (U) In hindsight it appears that the replacement of   as the AAWC with, an inexperienced officer, qualified only through on the job training, contributed to a degradation of the AAWC organization under combat stress. This in effect denied a double check on the information being provided from the ship's "Air Alley." Based on previous training and drills, however, Captain Rogers could not have reasonably foreseen this as a consequence of a sound tactical decision to modify his ship's battle doctrine for operations in the Persian Gulf.
  • (U) The performance of   leaves room for question. He was the one officer upon whom Captain Rogers had placed his trust and confidence to evaluate the AAWC situation and provide accurate assessments and recommendations upon which to base an engagement decision.
    1. (U) Early on   appears to have arrived at the conclusion that TN 4131 was an F-14 and posed a hostile threat to his ship. He accepted without question the combined reports of the TIC,   and the IDS,   as confirming an F-14. He admits his judgement was influenced by the July 4th intelligence warning, recent F-14 deployment to Bandar Abbas, previous observations of an Iranian F-14 squawking Mode II-1100, the Iranian P-3 to the northwest as a possible targeting platform, and the ongoing surface engagement.
    2. (U) In the final minute and forty seconds,   tells his Captain, as a fact, that the aircraft has veered from the flight path into an attack profile, and is rapidly descending at increasing speed directly toward USS VINCENNES. Even though the tone of these reports must have seemed increasingly hysterical (yelling and shouting),   made no attempt to confirm the reports on his own. Quick reference to the CRO on the console directly in front of him would have immediately shown increasing not decreasing altitude. Rather, this experienced and highly qualified officer, despite all of his training, relied on the judgement of one or two second class petty officers, buttressed by his own preconceived perception of the threat, to make an erroneous assessment to his Commanding Officer. As he said, "I had no reason to doubt them. I had to make a split second recommendation to the Commanding Officer, and I did." While many factors played in Captain Rogers' final decision to engage, the last report by   that the aircraft was rapidly descending directly toward the ship may have been pivotal.
  • (U) The following actions by USCINCCENT apply to this

    investigation:

    1. ( ) Action will be directed to correct the guidance in Joint Task Force Middle East/Middle East Force internal directives that "all" tracks originating in Iran will be identified as "unknown assumed enemy." Further, the criteria which specifies an aircraft be identified as commercial if it is at an "altitude of   of an airport" will also be corrected.
    2. (U)  
    3.  

      General George B. Crist Signiture.pngGEORGE B. CRIST
      General, USMC
      Commander in Chief

       

      CLASSIFIED BY: USCINCCENT
      DECLASSIFY ON: OADR