On August 7th, a NATO fighter jet accidentally shot a missile near the Russian border.
A Spanish Eurofighter 2000, while on a NATO air patrol near the Estonian-Russian border accidentally fired an air-to-air missile. It was part of a group of two Spanish Eurofighter Typhoon 2000 jets and two French Mirage 2000 jets.
The planes returned to Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania, however the missile is missing. It is presumably 40 km north of Tartu, Estonia. The jet was equipped with AMRAAM type missiles, which are 3.7 meters (12.1 feet) long, have a diameter of 18 centimeters (7 inches) and carry deadly explosives.
According to Estonian Defense Forces, quoted by Express, AMRAAM missiles are equipped with a self-destruction mode that should active in such a situation. However, it has not been confirmed whether the procedure was triggered and thus the possibility that the missile is somewhere on the ground. The Defense forces of Estonia have issued an alert, warning the public an unexploded missile or parts of it could be on the ground and if they come across it they should immediately contact the authorities. A search operation was also launched.
“I have ordered a suspension of all military sorties [by the Spanish jets] until the situation is resolved,” the Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik said, as cited by the national ERR broadcaster. He also further added that the NATO air mission will continue, however the Portuguese Air Force will take Spain’s place during the investigation.
Luik also further stressed that it is important to ensure safety and to discover what really happened. Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas commented, calling the incident “horrible” and “regrettable.” However, he also praised that the NATO mission calling it “very important and necessary part of ensuring Estonia’s security.”
However, the question is how the pilot accidentally launched the missile. The Eurofighter is smart aircraft. The Spanish jet has an armament control system (ACS) in place, part of the airplane’s brain that controls missile shots, among other things.
The fighter jet’s manual explains that for an air-to-air missile there is a procedure. The aircraft passes data about the target’s direction and speed before the missile launches. The manual also explains that a clean shot is completely intentional and is controlled by a process: “The system calculates the minimum and two maximum weapon ranges, which are marked on the scale as horizontal lines. The two maximum ranges differ as one range is based on the target remaining at 1g while the other assumes that the target will perform an escape maneuver.”
However, as reported by Popular Mechanics, there are times a pilot might need to make a quick shot. The Eurofighter can do this, according to the manual: “A gapped circle of fixed diameter, having six dashes and centered on the LFD, indicates the area in which the AMRAAM will search when launched in visual mode (7.5° around the bore sight, known as the acquisition cone.” As reported by Popular Mechanics, this is a dangerous move and is only made when a pilot is outnumbered by hostile aircraft, since the missile locks on to the first threat it detects. It is questionable if a NATO pilot would perform such an action by accident.
The investigation will reportedly look for human error, flight control computer bugs and other potential causes.
This is not an isolated case of the European military having a missile-related incident. In April 2018, US, UK and French forces had to fire missiles at supposedly three suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria. However, the three naval cruise missiles fired from the French frigate Languedoc were initially intended to come from a different French frigate whose first salvo simply “did not fire,” according to French Joint Chief of Staff spokesman Col. Patrick Steiger. France claimed that its forces still hit all targets. However, mishaps and incidents do happen with somewhat new and relatively untested equipment.