Three decades ago, a perfect storm the miscommunication, miscalculation, and human error in the warm of fight caused the United says to make a mistake similar to the one Iran simply did.


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The Jan. 8 Iranian shootdown that a Ukrainian passenger flight shortly after ~ takeoff indigenous Tehran airplane was not the first time the U.S.-Iranian tensions had actually resulted in a significant commercial airline tragedy. ~ above July 3, 1988, wilhelm C. Rogers III, the command of the USS Vincennes, ordered the downing of an Iranian passenger plane over the Strait the Hormuz, killing 290 human being from 6 nations. He thought it to be an F-14 fighter jet intent on attacking the U.S. Naval vessel.

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As part of our document of the week series, Foreign Policy is posting the U.S. Army investigation into the accident, along with letters from height U.S. Military brass defending the commander’s action as justified together a result of the fog of war. The documents—marked secret—were acquired by the black Vault, a repository of declassified U.S. Government files founded by man E. Greenewald Jr. Through flexibility of information Act requests.

The downing of Iran Air flight 655 emerged at the elevation of the 1980s war that pitted the revolutionary Islamic government of Iran versus Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Both sides consistently targeted your enemies’ shipping vessels. At the time, Iraq took pleasure in the backing the the joined States.


The Jan. 8 Iranian shootdown the a Ukrainian passenger trip shortly ~ takeoff indigenous Tehran airplane was no the an initial time that U.S.-Iranian tensions had resulted in a major commercial airline tragedy. ~ above July 3, 1988, wilhelm C. Rogers III, the command of the USS Vincennes, bespeak the downing of an Iranian passenger airplane over the Strait of Hormuz, killing 290 world from 6 nations. He believed it was an F-14 fighter jet will on attack the U.S. Marine vessel.


As component of our file of the week series, Foreign Policy is posting the U.S. Army investigation into the accident, together with letters from optimal U.S. Military brass defending the commander’s action as justified as a result of the fog the war. The documents—marked secret—were acquired by the black Vault, a repository that declassified U.S. Government documents founded by man E. Greenewald Jr. Through freedom of information Act requests.

The downing that Iran Air flight 655 arisen at the height of the 1980s war that pitted the revolutionary Islamic federal government of Iran versus Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Both sides continuously targeted their enemies’ shipping vessels. At the time, Iraq took pleasure in the backing the the united States.

In the feather of 1987, the United states committed naval pressures to escort American-flagged oil tankers with hostile waters in the Persian Gulf, whereby Iran had planted mines and targeted vendor vessels attached to Iraq and its backers. Iran taken into consideration the U.S. Action hostile because it prevented the nation from responding in type to Iraqi assaults on Iranian oil ships.

Days before the strike on the Iranian airliner, Iraq brought out a collection of air raids versus Iranian oil facilities and tankers. U.S. Forces in the region braced for a tide of suspect retaliatory strikes. Tehran, meanwhile, deployed 3 F-14 fighter jets from one airfield in Bushehr come a joint military-civilian airport in Bandar Abbas, if Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary guard Corps dispatched a swarm of little armed watercrafts to the Strait the Hormuz, where they an installed attacks on vendor vessels passing v the narrow piece of water that divides the Persian Gulf native the Gulf that Oman.

A helicopter indigenous the USS Vincennes, which was instructed come investigate, came under fire from among the little Iranian gunboats. The crew that the USS Vincennes to be still involved in a gunfight once the Iran wait Airbus A300 lifted turn off from Bandar Abbas en route to Dubai in the joined Arab Emirates. Seven minutes later, the aircraft was hit, killing anyone on board.

The joined States acknowledged responsibility because that the attack, but top U.S. Army officials declared that Iran bore considerable responsibility because it had actually not taken procedures to stop the commercial plane from traversing a war zone.

On the day of the attack, marine Corps Gen. George B. Crist, the head the U.S. Central Command, ordered an examination by rear Adm. Wilhelm M. Fogarty into what went wrong. The probe showed how a perfect storm the miscommunication, miscalculation, and human error in the warm of battle resulted in one of the deadliest commercial tragedies in modern-day times. There to be several crucial pieces of info that persuaded Rogers the his delivery was encountering an impending attack. Roughly the time that takeoff, the commander’s employee picked increase a signal that had been connected with Iran’s F-14 fighter jets. One Iranian P3 surveillance aircraft was spotted in the vicinity, raising fears the it to be looking to determine targets. However the many decisive bit of knowledge came minutes before the shooting when an agitated crew member educated the captain that the plane was headed straight towards the USS Vincennes—and it was descending and accelerating.

The report, it turned out, was wrong. The ship’s very own tracking system had recorded the airplane was actually ascending and that the F-14 signal had not come indigenous the doomed airplane. The plane, paris at an altitude of 13,500 feet, “was ~ above a common commercial wait flight setup profile, in the assigned airway … top top a continuous ascent in altitude from takeoff at Bandar Abbas come shoot down,” Fogarty’s report found.

There were mitigating factors, follow to the U.S. Military.

The Iranian armed forces authorities did not inform the advertisement tower in Bandar Abbas that hostilities to be in progression on the plane’s route. While the Iranian aircraft was fine within a 20-mile commercial waiting corridor, it had veered slightly off the corridor’s facility line. Iran provided the Bandar Abbas airfield come fly armed forces transport planes and fighters, adding to the confusion. Number of months earlier, Iran had actually launched a fighter jet in assistance of an strike on U.S. Marine forces. Shortly prior to the attack, the U.S. Armed forces issued tougher rules of engagement to their commanders, providing them government to fire on suspected opponent targets also if they had not themselves come under fire.

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“Given the problems existing ~ above 3 July, Captain Rogers and his an elderly CIC watch personnel acted reasonably,” william J. Crowe Jr., then-chairman that the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote on Aug. 18, 1988. “It is difficult in the warm of fight to dual check every piece of data being reported. This is not to indicate that Vincennes personnel performed perfect in this incident; they go not.” yet he added: “As the examination makes clear, to say there were errors made and lessons learned is not necessarily to imply culpability.”

“Given the time available, the Commanding Officer might hardly meet his duty to protect his ship and also crew and likewise clear up all of the feasible ambiguities,” he wrote.