warplanes. were ordered to, strike Libya in 1986, they ran
into an electronic blizzard that Pentagon officials now
suspect might have caused one of the fighters to crash and
others to miss their targets.
came not from the Libyans, but from high-powered U.S. military
transmitters that filled the night sky with electronic signals
designed not only to enable the fighters to communicate but to
jam Libya's antiaircraft defenses, hunt targets, and guide
The Pentagon is
so alarmed by the problem it has launched a $35 million effort
to identify the interference and keep it from happening again,
according to Air Force Col. Charles Quisenberry, who is
leading the probe. The
study is expected to take three years.
Libyan strike, U.S. weapons "were interfering with each
other and they [U.S. commanders] came back out of that and
they said: 'Look, we've got some problems here, and we want to
know if we're doing it to ourselves, or if the bad guys did.
it to us,'" Quisenberry said in an interview. "The
end result was we found out we did it to ourselves."
Ronald Reagan ordered the April 1986 strike after U.S.
intelligence linked Libya to the terrorist bombing of a West
Berlin nightclub' in which a U.S. serviceman was killed.
attack, 18 Air Force and 15 Navy planes attempted. to strike
five targets after U.S. planes and ships saturated the air
with powerful electronic transmissions.
said radio-wave interference might have led to the downing of
an F111 jet fighter, whose two crew members were the only U.S.
fatalities in the attack.
U.S. weapons, some of which were electronically guided, went
astray during the attack, damaging three foreign embassies and
diplomatic residences, including those of France and Japan.
several of the 32 surviving planes
including five F111s aborted their mission without firing a
shot because of unspecified problems.
Recent Pentagon studies have shown that some
combinations of U.S. weapons transmitting radio waves at
certain frequencies can bring down U.S. warplanes, Quisenberry
Some radio waves common above the
battlefield "will actually affect the electrons within
the aircraft's flight controls as well as its fuel
controls," he said, either putting a plane into an
uncommanded turn or dive or turning off its fuel supply.
Quisenberry recently finished a
classified seven-month investigation of the problem which led
top pentagon officials to order the more detailed three-year
"There are major, major problems
out there that need to be addressed." Quisenberry said.
"The proliferation of equipment that operates in the
electromagnetic spectrum keeps growing.
It's finally gotten to the point where we've got to do
something about it."
Quisenberry and his staff of 65,
working from the Tactical Air Warfare Center at Eglin Air
Force Base in the Florida panhandle, will study the Pentagon's
primary war plans. For
the first time, they will calculate how radio emissions from
the weapons of one service might disrupt the sophisticated
electronic gear of the other services.
Before conducting tests on weapons in
the field, Quisenberry's study is using computers to detect
A preliminary study of one war plan
revealed "thousands of (radio wave) conflicts" among
the weapons slated to be used in the event of a war in that
region. Quisenberry said.
"Many people have told us
that a lot of people will not be happy with what we find out
because we'll actually uncover problems," he said.
"If there's a
problem with the B1, that might not be
politically acceptable–people may have some heartburn with
He said his goal is to inform U.S. and
allied commanders of potential problems and recommend tactics
to avoid them—either by assigning new frequencies to certain
weapon transmitters or assuring that conflicting weapons are
kept far enough apart to prevent interference.
Tests using weapons “where we can
turn the equipment on full blast" are to begin. this
summer, Quisenberry said.
In the past, he said, the Pentagon too
often ignored its safeguards designed to protect weapons from
electromagnetic interference (EMI).
"In many cases, a program manager
will get an exemption for. getting a weapon delivered without
having EMI looked at completely;" Quisenberry said.
Such waivers have been "a kind of
run-of-the-mill thing, to be honest with you," he said.
"In many cases, you have politics involved in getting a
product developed, or a program manager has a schedule to
meet… The most
important thing is that there was not a hammer—someone
saying you could not build a certain weapon until its EMI
problems were fixed."
Last year, the Army acknowledged that
flight near large transmitters could put its UH60 Black Hawk
helicopter into uncommanded turns.
The service has begun a $175 million program to shield
the Black Hawk's flight control computers from such radiation.
Since 1982 as many as five UH60 crashes that killed 22.
servicemen may have been due to electromagnetic interference.
"The Black Hawk was shielded at a
very low level - it was known ahead of time that its shielding
was inadequate," Quisenberry said. "There was a lot
of corporate knowledge that knew it wasn't going to hack