Monday, February 05, 2007

"Unintended consequences"

This is a great story.
Australia, like most advanced countries, does some of its military training in simulators, including armed helicopters. The instructing staff were informed some actual crews, in actual helicopters, had strafed kangaroos.

Aside from any concerns about the kangaroos themselves, this was militarily unwise. It wasted ammunition, caused the crews to waste fuel making the runs, and encouraged unnecessary and risky low-level runs. So, the simulator programmers were told to put kangaroos into the simulation, with the idea that the instructors could give due criticism following the training mission debrief.

Like good programmers, the simulator group decided to do things in the easiest way, and soon found they had already programmed the figures of infantry. They appropriated the infantry software, and only paid attention to the graphic presentation. What had been men were now kangaroos.

When the first trainee crews went into the new simulators, they quickly spotted the kangaroos, and gave chase. That is when all were reminded that when reusing software, it is wise to check all programmed behaviors.

As the helicopters came threateningly close, selected kangaroos pulled out shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, presumably from their pouches, and let fly. Utter crew panic ensued, and several crews in a row crashed in their utter confusion, without the missile actually needing to hit the helicopter.

I am told they left in the feature, which left crews absolutely, positively, totally terrified of ever shooting at a kangaroo again.

*equal opportunity offense to both extremes*
The veracity of this story is unknown. The plausibility, however, is high.

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