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Panetta Nominates Notorious Navy Captain For Admiral

Lt. J.G. Timothy Dorsey Intentionally Shot Down Friendly RF-4C in 1987

The world of military aviation is an environment intolerant of screw-ups. You might think the career of a US Navy junior lieutenant who intentionally shot a live missile at an Air Force F-4 during a training exercise, nearly killing two airmen, would have been over. Instead, the Obama administration has nominated him for promotion to Admiral.

The Washington Times reports that among the list of nominees submitted to the Senate by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (pictured)  is navy Reserve Captain Timothy W. Dorsey who, on September 22, 1987, was taking part in a non-fire flight exercise over the Mediterranean in an F-14. He was reportedly given a command to simulate a missile firing, but instead armed a real Sidewinder missile without telling his back-seat radar intercept officer, and shot down another Air Force plane. Its two pilots ejected moments before the RF-4C exploded.

The 1988 investigative report was scathing. The Associated Press got a copy through the Freedom of Information Act. It reads, in part, "The destruction of USAF RF-4C was not the result of an accident, but the consequence of a deliberate act. His subsequent reaction demonstrated an absolute disregard of the known facts and circumstances.

“He failed to utilize the decision-making process taught in replacement training and reacted in a purely mechanical manner. The performance of Lieutenant Timothy W. Dorsey raises substantial doubt as to his capacity for good, sound judgment."

Vice Admiral Kendall Moranville, who had headed the 6th Fleet, added, "We necessarily rely on the self-discipline and judgment of pilots to prevent such incidents...Nothing, in my opinion, can mitigate Lieutenant Dorsey’s basic error in judgment."

Retired F-14 pilot Jon Ault tells the Times, "I would never have guessed he’d ever make it to commander, much less admiral...I thought his career was over back when the shoot-down happened. He refused to accept any blame...I mean, the guy did it on purpose."

In the nearly 25 years since the missile incident, Dorsey has built a resume which includes becoming a reserve intelligence officer, then inspector general. He's also earned a law degree from the University of Richmond. But how did his career survive that 1987 incident, and the harsh reviews which followed?

It's probably just coincidence, but at the time of the incident, Dorsey's father, James Dorsey, was commander of the aircraft carrier USS America. A year later, he became assistant deputy chief of naval operations at the Pentagon and later became a three-star vice admiral.

Captain Dorsey currently serves as inspector general for Navy Reserve Detachment 106 in Norfolk, VA. He declined to discuss the 1987 incident with the Times, saying he's about to take a Navy Reserve intelligence post, and a high profile in the press would be inappropriate.

FMI: www.senate.gov/pagelayout/legislative/one_item_and_teasers/nom_cmten.htm

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