The Falklands’ War was when we found out about the Excocet.

The Excocet was an anti-ship missile fired from an Argentinean aircraft.

The plane would approach at wave height, invisible to radar.

Quickly pop up, acquire a target, fire the missile, and drop back down.

Invisible to radar again.

The missile would attack at wave height, also invisible to radar.

The only point the radar could see anything was the brief moment the aircraft popped up to fire the missile.

At least that’s what should have happened.

The first experience of the Excocet came with HMS Sheffield.

HMS Sheffield used her radar to check the horizon for enemy aircraft.

There weren’t any showing.

So she switched her radar off briefly so she could use her satellite communications.

Because the frequency the radar worked on was the same.

And while Sheffield had her radar briefly switched off, the Argentinean aircraft popped up, fired the missile, and popped back down.

During this period, the aircraft would have been clearly visible to HMS Sheffield’s radar.

But it was switched off.

So the missile skimmed at wave height towards The Sheffield.

The Sheffield switched the radar back on, and everything looked quiet and peaceful.

Until the missile hit.

And that was the end of The Sheffield.

But even then, the British weren’t too worried about Excocet.

Because we had Sea Wolf.

Sea Wolf was an incredibly fast surface-to-air missile.

It was so fast it could shoot down a 4” shell in flight.

In fact it could handle anything that could fly.

As long as the radar acquired the target.

Sea Wolf’s range-finding radar worked the same way as a camera.

If you’ve ever used a manual focus camera, you know you have to align the images.

When it’s out of focus, you can see two separate images.

As you focus they come closer together.

When it’s exactly in focus, you have a single image.

That’s similar to the range-finding radar on the Sea Wolf system.

Several old-fashioned Argentinean jets attacked the British fleet.

They were so old they didn’t even have missiles, just bombs.

So they attacked the old-fashioned way.

In line, each plane behind the one in front.

Sea Wolf’s range-finding radar lined up on the first plane.

But, as it was looking directly at it, the images of the planes behind kept overlapping and moving apart.

The radar kept adjusting the range to try to get a single image.

But the images kept moving apart.

So the radar assumed it was unable to focus.

It assumed it was malfunctioning.

So it shut itself down.

The most sophisticated missile system in the world was now useless.

Without radar it couldn’t fire.

The Sea Wolf missiles just sat there while the old Argentinean planes attacked and dropped their bombs.

See technology can only do what it’s programmed to do.

What it can’t do is use its initiative.

Or use its intuition.

Because it doesn’t have any.

You can’t programme initiative and intuition into technology.

So it can’t take decisions outside its programming.

As situations and circumstances change.

That’s why technology makes a great servant and a lousy master.

Technology isn’t creative.


Alan Waldie was an art director who’d won every award there was.

A young art director was showing him his new computer.

Waldie said “Where’s the button for ideas?”