The loss of a Royal Air Force Lockheed Martin C-130K Hercules transport to hostile fire in Iraq earlier this year has prompted the service to review its operational tactics, intelligence collation and dissemination procedures and to consider acquiring additional aircraft safety systems, says chief of the air staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup. The steps are also among the recommendations made by a board of inquiry (BOI) set up to investigate the causes of the 30 January accident, which killed 10 people.
Published by the UK Ministry of Defence on 8 December, the BOI’s report reveals that 47 Sqn-operated XV179 came under co-ordinated attack from multiple weapon sites while flying at low level during a daylight mission between Baghdad and Balad. Several projectiles hit the heavily fuelled aircraft 6min into its flight, causing a brief fire in its outer starboard wing before an explosion in its number 4 fuel tank detached a 23ft (7m)-long outer wing section. The crew made a brief radio report that “we are on fire”, but the aircraft crashed within no more than 15s of the explosion.
Two US Army Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters had come under fire within 3km of the crash site the same day, but the report reveals that, as the allied Air Component Headquarters “had no visibility of XV179’s tasking or routing, the significance of the earlier attack was not apparent to them”. The MoD has not revealed the weapons involved, but says two other RAF C-130s were hit in the wing by similar ground fire in the year before the incident, in both cases suffering minor damage. “The aircraft’s apparent resilience led to a perception that the aircraft was not vulnerable to this type of weapon,” the report says.
The UK is now studying equipping its transports with fire-inerting systems to reduce the risk of a potentially explosive fuel/air mix, and of providing the C-130K with a basic data recorder. It has also restricted its transport aircraft in Iraq from conducting low-level flights in daylight unless essential.
CRAIG HOYLE / LONDON