NORTH AMERICAN AEROSPACE DEFENSE COMMAND
13 October 1996
MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
SUBJECT: Report of Inquiry Shoot Down of Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR) Aircraft
1. I am forwarding the attached Report of Inquiry concerning the circumstances surrounding the shoot down by the Cuban military of two BTTR aircraft to you through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
2. I have reviewed the report and it answers the issues and questions raised concerning this incident. This is a combined report which covers the events both before and after the shoot down, and is based on information obtained from NORAD and other agencies that may have been involved or have facts which could contribute to a complete inquiry.
3. Brigadier General Kelly has complied with his letter of appointment and fully developed the facts and circumstances surrounding this incident. I concur with his findings and conclusions. As a courtesy, I have forwarded a copy to General Sheehan.
HOWELL M. ESTES III
Commander in Chief
FOR THE COMMON DEFENCE - POUR LA DEFENSE COMMUNE
THE JOINT STAFF
7 November 1996
Reply ZIP Code:
The Honorable John McCain
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator McCain,
On behalf of the Secretary of Defense, I have been asked to respond to your inquiry from Mr. Armando C. Mendive, On 13 October 1996, the North American Aerospace Defense Command completed a formal investigation into the events surrounding the 24 February shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue aircraft. I have enclosed the unclassified Executive summary from the report that you can pass to your constituent. The entire report is classified, it contains current operational methods and activity. This report has been released to the House International Relations Committee Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.
If I may be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Lieutenant General, USMC
Director for Operations
REPORT OF INQUIRY
BRIGADIER GENERAL RODNEY P. KELLY
CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING U.S. MILITARY RESPONSE
REGARDING THE SHOOT DOWN
BY CUBAN MILITARY AIRCRAFT
OF TWO REGISTERED CIVIL AIRCRAFT, 24 FEBRUARY 1996
Scope and Authority
On 26 September 1996, General Howell M. Estes, 111, CINCNORAD, appointed Brigadier General Rodney P. Kelly to conduct an 'inquiry into the facts and circumstances of military operations on 24 February 1996 when two civil aircraft, B rothers-To-The-Rescue (BTTR) Cessna 337s, were shot down in the Florida Straits by Cuban MiGs. Additionally, General Estes verbally tasked General Kelly to answer questions raised in Congressional hearings concerning the shoot down and to provide recommendations that General Kelly deemed appropriate,
On 24 February 1996, three BTTR aircraft launched from Opa Locka, Florida, on filed flight plans to operate in international airspace south of the 24N, The pilot of BTTR 1 informed Havana Control of his intention to operate south of the 24th parallel. Havana Control warned him of the danger of flying in the airspace; he acknowledged the wan-ling. The BTTR flight deviated from their filed flight plan and proceeded on a direct course south toward Havana. Two Cuban MiG fighters scrambled. Shortly after BTTR 1 penetrated Cuban territorial airspace, the MiGs engaged and shot down BTTR 2 and BTTR 3 in international airspace. BTTR 1 crossed two miles into Cuban sovereign territory before reversing his course and exiting to the north The two initial MiGs returned to base following the shoot down, and two additional MiGs were scrambled to Combat Air Patrol (CAP).
Several reviews and inquires of the circumstances surrounding the incident have occurred. In responding to these inquiries, conflicting accounts were presented resulting in allegations of false information and inadequate military response.
NORAD and USACOM both operate in the Florida Straits. The generally agreed boundary between the commands is the 24th Parallel.
Both NORAD and CJCS Rules of Engagement permit defense of US lives and property in international airspace in response to hostile act/intent.
Provisions are in place to transfer forces from NORAD to USACOM if required to execute contingency operations in the Florida Straits.
CON-US NORAD Region and Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) have procedures to respond to Cuban air activity north of the island.
The BTTR had historically operated south of the 24th Parallel.
Cuban historical response to BTTR activity was consistent with international law and ICAO procedures.
NORAD, the FAA, CARIBROC, and Customs were all tracking BTTR activity on 24 February 1996.
Cuban aircraft were active the day prior to and the morning of the incident, but no unusual activity was noted and no intelligence indicated any hostile intent.
When the BTTR Light turned due south at the 24th parallel, Cuba scrambled a NUG-29 and NEG-23 in response. These aircraft never met SEADS scramble criteria; further, there was no indication of hostile intent on the part of the MIGs until the first shoot down at 1521 EST.
The flight of MIGs were never a threat to US sovereign airspace.
During this sequence of events, the Homestead F-15s were directed off battle stations due to a communications error at Cheyenne Mountain.
A second pair of MiGs was launched to conduct a combat air patrol mission near the Cuban landmass. At no time did they approach US sovereign airspace; the MIGs closed no nearer than 48.1 miles of BTTR 1 in his retreat.
NORAD and USACOM followed established procedures during the incident.
No evidence suggests that any US element had prior knowledge of hostile intent on the part of the Cuban forces.
- Due to speed of events and location of the shoot down, US aircraft could not have responded to the incident in time to prevent loss of life.
- Although the result of miscommunication, the decision to take the Homestead aircraft off battle stations did not affect the outcome of the event.
- It is unlikely that a scramble by F-15s from Homestead would have deterred the shoot down.
- The MiGs were never a threat to BTTR 1 once he turned north and were never a threat to US airspace.
- Given the circumstances of this incident NORAD and USACOM forces could have done nothing to save American lives.
- Adequate procedures are now in place to deal with the safety and law enforcement issues which prevents the need to assign a specific military mission.
RODNEY P. KELLY, Brig Gen, USAF
General Howell M. Estes III
Commander in Chief
North American Aerospace Defense Command
February 19, 1997
Re: Report of Inquiry Prepared by Brigadier General Rodney P. Kelly
Inquiry Officer Headquarters NORAD/J-5 Concerning Circumstances Surrounding L.S.
Military Response Regarding The Shoot Down By Cuban Military Aircraft Of Two
Registered Civil Aircraft, 24 February 1996
Dear General Estes:
We have reviewed the above document and have several observations and comments as follows:
1. The Background paragraph of the Executive Summary is misleading and appears to intentionally misrepresent the facts:
- The statement that "Havana Control warned him of the danger of flying south of the 24th parallel" is irrelevant, since the area directly south of the 24th parallel, but north of the Cuban ADIZ (12 mile territorial limit) is international airspace. This is an area which BTTR and the US Coast Guard have covered consistently in their search and rescue missions over the past 5 years. Cuba has always issued the warning stated above to BTTR. Since this is international airspace, it should not be dangerous to fly there.
- Gen. Kelly's statement that "'The BTTR flight deviated from their filed flight plan and proceeded on a direct course south toward Havana. Two Cuban MiG fighters scrambled." is misleading. The BTTR planes, followed the filed flight plan that day. These flights always involve flying "directly south" to the primary search zone and "rake" the area in east/west patterns to cover the maximum area in search of rafters. The only deviation on the 24th of February 1996 was that the initial pass was begun from west to east. Kelly's sentence sequence erroneously implies a connection between flying south "toward Havana" and the MiGs being scrambled. In fact, the MiGs had been scrambled earlier that day and again at 2:55pm while the BTTR planes were still north of the 24 th parallel in US controlled airspace. Our flight pattern was no different than any flown over the last five years. The Cuban MiGs however did make a bee line to "intercept" the BTTR aircraft in a clearly hostile manner as documented by US Customs radar specialist as quoted in sworn testimony. Warning calls by Maj. Houlihan to Tyndall Air Force Base at 3:16pm went ignored for reasons as yet to be determined. The above sequence is important in that it clearly demonstrates hostile intent on the part of the Cuban MiGs and ample possibility to respond on the part of the US Air Force.
- Kelly also states that "Shortly after BTTR penetrated Cuban territorial airspace, the MiGs engaged and shot down BTTR 2 AND BTTR 3 in international airspace" implying that had BTTR 1 not entered into Cuban airspace the planes would not have been shot down. This is ludicrous. The MiGs where already hunting the BTTR aircraft as noted by the timeline above before BTTR I supposedly drifted into Cuban airspace. US radar clearly shows BTTR 1 on an easterly course parallel to the island after supposedly penetrating the Cuban ADIZ and was not headed south at the time of the murder. There was no "reversal" in course.
2. The Findings section contains several blatant inaccuracies as outlined below:
- Paragraph 8 of the Findings section states that "no unusual activity was noted and no intelligence indicated any hostile intent". However, as documented by the official ICAO Report and other public information published among others by Time Magazine, The Miami Herald, etc., this finding is totally false. Less than three weeks prior to the shoot down, retired US Navy Admiral Eugene Carroll of the International Center for Defense was asked directly by Gen. Arnaldo Tamayo of the Cuban Air Force in Cuba what would happen if the Cubans shot down the BTTR aircraft. On February 18th or 19th Carroll met with the US State Department to report what he considered to be a "warning" from Cuban officials. In. addition to this incident, Time Magazine reported that American intelligence had detected the Cuban MiGs practicing techniques to shoot down slow moving planes. Furthermore, the ICAO report noted that the US Department of State felt that the Cubans were in a "rough mood" just prior to the incident (see page 50 of the ICAO report). Finally, former US Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick was recently quoted in a Miami Herald article confirming that a high ranking Clinton Administration official knowledgeable about Cuban affairs told her prior to the shootdown, that "he was convinced that something dreadful was going to happen to the Brothers' planes. The article went on to state that "she assumed that be was privy to confidential intelligence reports and she didn't press him".
- Paragraph 9 of the Findings section is incorrect as it states that 'When the BTTR flight turned due south at the 24th parallel, Cuba scrambled a MiG-29 and MiG-23 in response." Based on the timeline described in section I above, we know that the MiGs were scrambled prior to BTTR crossing the 24th parallel. Also note that BTTR was beaded south prior to crossing the 24th parallel; they did not turn south at that mark. Kelly goes on to mistakenly state that "these aircraft never met SEADS scramble criteria; further, there was no 'indication of hostile intent on the part of the MiGs until the first shoot down at 1521 EST." Again as noted in section I above, this statement is clearly false given the fact that Maj. Houlihan made his emergency warning call to the Tyndall Air Force Base at 1516 EST, as documented in court testimony. Tragically, Houlihan's attempt to solicit help to preserve the life of US citizens went unheeded. In addition, Maj. Houlihan testified that there is a standard operating procedure in which interceptor jets must be deployed once Cuban MiGs cross the Cuban 12 mile territorial limit (ADIZ), yet this standard procedure was ignored on February 24, 1996.
- Paragraph 10 of the Findings section stating that the "MiGs were never a threat to US sovereign airspace" remains unproven. The transcript of the conversation between pilots of the second set of MiGs and their ground controllers clearly indicates that the MiGs pursued the last remaining BTTR aircraft to within 32 miles of Key West (well within striking distance U.S. territory). They visually identify the target as a blue Cessna 337 at a time when BTTR 1 was north of the 24th parallel, according to official US radar. This would imply yet another breach of procedure and a clear threat to US territory.
- Paragraph 11 of the Findings section notes that "the Homestead F-15s were directed off battle stations due to a communications error at Cheyenne Mountain." Please advise us what kind of communications error occurred at Cheyenne Mountain and why the U.S. interceptor jets did not follow standard operating procedure and take off once the MiGs crossed outside the Cuban 12 mile ADIZ?
- Paragraph 12 of the Findings section also appears to be inconsistent with the transcript and US radar timeline noted above.
3. The Conclusions section is flawed based on all the errors contained in the Findings section of Kelly's report. The factual evidence presented above calls into question the majority of the conclusions as noted below:
- on point 1, based on court testimony by US officials, it is clear that neither NORAD nor USACOM followed established procedure. We still wonder why?
- on point 2, various US elements had prior knowledge of hostile intent on the part of the Cuban forces as noted above and documented in various public records. Why does the Kelly report so easily over-look these facts.
- on point 3, we note that US officials made emergency calls alerting appropriate authorities 7 minutes prior to the first shoot-down. While the interceptors may not have had time to reach the location, their launch and fast approach would certainly have provided a deterrent on the second shoot down.
- point 4, implies that a miscommunication directed the Homestead F-15s off of battle stations. In an environment where US citizens are being blown to bits by Cuban MiGs, in full view of US radar operators, one could argue that this was not a "miscommunication" but a egregious failure to take action. If Cuban military authorities were monitoring US response at the time, this could have been taken as a clear "green" light to proceed.
- on point 5, the assertion that F-15s would not have deterred the shoot down is pure speculation. In fact, former Cuban military officials, specifically Maj. Orestes Lorenzo, has stated publicly that the scrambling of US fighters are a clear deterrent to hostile activities of Cuban MiGs.
- on point 6, the assertion that the MiGs were never a threat to BTTR 1 is refuted by the transcripts of the second set of pursuit planes. The threat to US territory is plausible, particularly in light of prior MiG incursions into US airspace.
- the statement that NORAD and USACOM forces could have done nothing to save American lives on point 7 is also inaccurate as a simple radio call to the BTTR aircraft in flight might have saved at least the second BTTR plane. Maj'. Houlihan testified that it would have taken no more than a minute to contact the planes in the air.
- we have no comment to point 8
We hope that you will take the time to review all of the available information. In the face of such heavy evidence, and given the otherwise reputable nature of the US armed forces and those who properly serve in it, we believe that this whole investigation should be re-done. Not to do this would in itself carry worrisome implications as to the role of the various entities involved in the events referred to herein.
We will be happy to assist you in any way that we can. If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Brothers to the Rescue
Jose J. Basulto, President