But the senior defense official explained yesterday that the Air Force combat controller was using a Precision Lightweight GPS Receiver, known to soldiers as a “plugger,” to calculate the Taliban’s coordinates for a B-52 attack. The controller did not realize that after he changed the device’s battery, the machine was programmed to automatically come back on displaying coordinates for its own location, the official said.
Minutes before the fatal B-52 strike, which also killed five Afghan opposition soldiers and injured 18 others, the controller had used the GPS receiver to calculate the latitude and longitude of the Taliban position in minutes and seconds for an airstrike by a Navy F/A-18, the official said.
Then, with the B-52 approaching the target, the air controller did a second calculation in “degree decimals” required by the bomber crew. The controller had performed the calculation and recorded the position, the official said, when the receiver battery died.
Without realizing the machine was programmed to come back on showing the coordinates of its own location, the controller mistakenly called in the American position to the B-52. The JDAM landed with devastating precision.
My Comment: The way I read it, the soldier using the device did not know the implications of changing the battery. Seems like he was assuming that state was preserved when the battery was changed. More, it looks like the device does not give feedback that that is what it’s doing when you need to change the battery.
I feel very lucky to not work with interfaces whose malfunction and misunderstanding are likely to end in death and destruction.