Friendly Fire

Murphy’s Law Activated in a Mission-Critical Exercise

In this assignment, I demonstrate how anything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong within the Friendly Fire case. My analysis leads me to the conclusion that there were errors at the individual, organizational, technological and communications levels and those resulted in the deaths of 26 passengers. The cross-team operations and tasks in the OPC were designed to be mechanistic in nature but in reality were organic. I believe that each team had their own coordination mechanisms but those weren’t integrated with each other. Additionally, local practices became the norm and they become the Standard Operating Procedures disregarding the global directives.   Last but not the least, the AWACS crew on the day had a weak team with diffused responsibilities.

OPC Organization

The mission had a flawed organizational structure:

- OPC was setup to be a temporary assignment with no specific end date. It lasted for more than 3 years.
- F15 pilots reported to Pilkington in a dotted line fashion and he had no direct control over them
- There was no unity of command – rules of authority were ambiguous


The team central to the entire mission of OPC had a lot of problems that day. Some of them were:

- Lt. Ricky Wilson was an inexperienced controller and had no prior real-world flights. He didn’t know how to react to things outside of his limited training.
- The team was put together in an adhoc manner and had no team dynamics.
- The shadow crew consisting of Instructors led to a false sense of security for the rookies and as a result nobody felt responsible for taking any action.
- The crews worked long hours, were strained and had low morale.

Local Practices

- Blackhawk Helicopters developed the habit of not changing frequencies and controllers.
- AWACS Controllers had developed informal procedures to hand-off aircraft responsibilities and when things went south (screen not working),...