Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has announced an investigation into how the computerised Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system failed, leading to a the shooting down of an RAF Tornado jet by a US Patriot missile system.
He said the UK plane was fitted with the same IFF equipment as its American counterparts. Hoon told a Gulf War press conference that the downing of the Tornado had been a shock and that clearly something - possibly technology - in the IFF system had failed.
Another possibility was that the signal that should have been exchanged between the Tornado GR4 returning to the Ali Saraam airbase in Kuwait and the US missile battery had failed, said Hoon.
"An investigation into what went wrong is under way. There could have been a computer failure. The Tornado was fitted with an up-to-date IFF system. It is the same as that fitted to American jets.''
RAF personnel in the Gulf were deeply shocked by the "friendly fire'' killing, especially as the plane was fitted with the latest IFF technology. The US high-command has apologised for the downing of the plane and is co-operating in the investigation.
Liberal Democrat MP David Rendel expressed serious concern at the incident. Last August the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, of which Rendel is a member, published a report which highlighted the failure of the UK and US forces to produce a proper and interactive IFF system for all British and American forces in the Gulf with conflict imminent.
Rendel said the Tornado incident reinforced those fears and the failure of the two governments to do enough to develop aan effective IFF system in advance of the fighting in view of major IFF and "friendly fire'' problems in the last Gulf War 12 years ago.