The military training exercise began as a way for the Air Corps to gain publicity (and congressional funding) for airplanes. The rivalry between the Navy and Air Corps only aggravated the event.
In 1937, the capability of the Air Corps, an early name for what would become the U.S. Air Force, was unknown. The Navy scoffed at the Air Corps’ challenge to find a ship on the open sea and accurately strike it with bombs. In what would later be called “Exercise Utah”, the USS Utah sailed off the coast of California and the Air Corps, with its load of colored water bombs, was ordered to find it.
After a day of failed attempts, and ten minutes before the deadline, a squadron of B-17s struck the Utah with the water bombs. A day later, the bombers repeated the strike from a higher altitude.
Military senior leaders were awe struck. The exercise report was never released and therefore no lessons were applied to change military planning.
Four years later, the USS Utah would be struck again, this time at Pearl Harbor and with live bombs. It would sink, never to rise again.
Is your organization learning or hiding under the covers?
Are lessons learned or downplayed to save face?
Is ego more important than mission success?