BACKGROUND ( NEWS REPORT )
Three officers of the Indian Air Force were sacked on Tuesday, 23rd August, for accidental firing of a Brahmos missile that landed in Pakistan.
An official statement said that the services of the officers were terminated after a Court of Inquiry (CoI) found that deviation from the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) by them led to the accidental firing of the missile on March 9.
The three officers have primarily been held responsible for the incident and their services have been terminated by the central government with immediate effect. Termination orders were served upon the officers on August 23.
The incident had taken place on March 9 and Pakistan had lodged its protest with India the next day.
On March 11, the Defence Ministry said the missile was fired accidentally and it landed in Pakistan.
The ministry had said then that it was caused by a technical malfunction in the course of the routine maintenance of the missile, adding the government has taken a serious view of the incident.
Separately, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said in Parliament on March 15 that SOPs for operations, maintenance, and inspection of such systems were being reviewed.
Following the incident, Pakistan summoned India's Charge d'Affaires in Islamabad and conveyed its strong protest over the "unprovoked" violation of its airspace by the supersonic "projectile" of Indian origin.
Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar, the Director-General of the Inter-Service Public Relations of Pakistan, said the unarmed projectile entered the Pakistani airspace travelling 124 km.
The Pakistan foreign office said the "super-sonic flying object" entered into Pakistan from India's Suratgarh and fell to the ground near Mian Channu city, causing damage to civilian property.
The Pakistan foreign office also called for a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident and demanded that its outcome be shared with Islamabad.
The Main Article
On 9th March, 2022 an UNARMED BRAHMOS MISSILE designated as SUPERSONIC CRUISE MISSILE was accidentally fired during inspection. Missile landed 124 km inside Pakistan. To best of my knowledge all officers involved in the accidental firing were immediately relieved of their duty and CoI ordered.
On 23rd August, 2022 THREE IAF OFFICERS (one each Gp Capt, Wg Cdr, Sqn Ldr- Media Report) were served with dismissal order.
Without any reservation, I consider inadvertent/accidental launch of a missile to be a grave lapse and merits exemplary punitive action (against those responsible) and corrective action of refining the SOP, if required. However DISMISSAL FROM SERVICE is irrational and disproportionate punishment unless malafide intent of those held responsible can be proved beyond doubt.
My view/guess is that they should and will go to court to challenge the order. I can forecast court judgment; Dismissal from Service will be reversed by the courts. Even if court upholds the verdict of dismissal, it will only be against the officer, who pressed the firing button and not other two.
Issues in perspective;
· Was the launch intentional?
· Did the CoI establish any deliberate individual or collective mischief against officers held responsible for launch?
· Was it accidental/inadvertent due to non adherence to SOPs?
· Were officers involved in simulated exercise adequately trained?
· Did they carry out similar exercise earlier?
· Does Brahmos have the facility of ‘in flight’ destruction after an inadvertent launch?
News print already states that it was an accidental launch (quoting MoD), hence intentional launch/mischief has already been ruled out.
What action would have been taken against these officers, if the missile had landed in Indian territory? Notwithstanding PAKI claims, the fact is that PAKIS could not/did not track the missile while it was in air. Because if that was the case they would have initiated action viz launch interceptors, inform India on DGMO HOTLINE. Neither happened.
Indeed such inadvertent events can lead to escalation. More than dozen instances of suspected missile launches took place during peak of cold war era. None resulted in any disaster. Because in each case the HOT LINE was used and situation was diffused. Inadvertently live nukes have been loaded on B-52. In all such cases USAF did take action against personnel but none was ever dismissed.
Far more graver instances have taken place; Kargil for instance. Only punishment meted out to individuals was removal from the post of Div/Bde Cdr and subsequent non promotion. I am not attempting to defend the indefensible. Accidental launch of a missile must invite severe punishment but not dismissal from service. ‘ON THE JOB’ risk of an inadvertent/unintentional error is always there. There have been, there will be instances when PAF/IAF aeroplanes wander into each other’s territory, GPS and SATNAV notwithstanding. KAL 007 was deliberately shot down by then USSR assuming it to be a surveillance aircraft.
10. Raising the hype of a possible ‘nuclear exchange’ between India and Pakistan because of inadvertent launch of a missile is too far fetched in present age of communication. In this case, too, Pakistan did contact India after nearly two hours (as reported in media) after missile strike.
11. What would be our response if a PAKI missile (unarmed) struck Indian territory? Will we retaliate with a nuke instantly? I am placing this most relevant aspect in perspective. Media reports state unequivocally that it was an ‘ACCIDENTAL’ launch, hence culpability is confined to ‘ERROR OF JUDGMENT/NON ADHERENCE TO SOPs’. Neither of these offences merit such disproportionate punishment.
. Are we trying to please Pakistan?
. Moving over to operational issues;
· DG, ISPR and AVM Tauqir Zia (PAF) briefed Pak media and senior military officers on 10th March, 2022. Entire transcript was played on PTV during their news bulletin at 2100h Pakistan time same day. According to Pak reports published in The Hindu, total flight time of missile was six minutes forty six seconds. Missile was in Pak territory for three minutes forty four seconds. Pak could not/did not take any action to intercept it. That is good news for weapon system. Although PAK claims that they tracked the missile flying at about 40000 feet at Mach 2.5-3 yet they could not intercept it. In fact a Pak reporter asked as to why it was not shot down. Entire transcript is still available on internet.
· Hindu report based on DG, ISPR press conference also claims that missile altered the course towards Pakistan after flying for 70-80 km in a SW’ly direction within Indian territory, altered course to NW’ly direction and flew for about 124 km (3’ 44”) in Pak territory.
· If DG, ISPR claim is true about flight profile of missile, I am wondering if indeed it was Brahmos. Because according to my limited knowledge Brahmos is a supersonic cruise missile, which flies at low level.
· What caused the missile to alter its course?
· Was any command given from ground?
· Does the facility exists to alter the course after launch?
· Or missile altered its course due to technical malfunction or was it pre programmed?
· Did Indian authorities (civil/military) inform Pakistan?
· If yes, after how much time after launch?
· Was DGMO HOTLINE used? If yes, after how much time?
· Is there a need for a dedicated HOT LINE with Pakistan/China in three Service HQs with respective Chiefs?
14. Preparation time for launch of nukes capable missiles/aircraft is in hours in context of India and Pakistan. No country, USA included, can or will launch a nuke capable missile within minutes/seconds. There is preparation time, decision time, target selection etc is involved. For records; US President, while on the move is accompanied by ‘FOOTBALL’. ‘FOOTBALL’ is name given to a security person carrying a brief case ‘CHAINED’ to his wrist. In the event of a nuclear threat POTUS uses the ‘FOOTBALL’ to communicate his decision. Authentication process itself takes nearly a minute, as mentioned in US Strategic Command document.
15. I am mentioning this fact to pour cold water over Indian Mavericks, who claim that Pak could have retaliated within seconds with a nuclear tipped missile after Brahmos struck inside Pakistan. Disproportionate punishment of dismissal from service stems from such horrendous belief/view. Fact is that in all probability Pakistan learnt of the missile strike only after noise of impact was heard and reported.
16. My views would have remained same even if the men involved wore Whites/OG. I held the same view when INS Sindhughosh blew up and few years later nuclear submarine sailed out with open hatch. Of course in these instances Pak was not involved.
Pakistan has termed dismissal of three IAF officers as grossly inadequate action on part of India. They are insisting on joint probe. And we want to please PAKIS; Sad but true! No rewards for any guesses as to what PAKIS would have done to their officers for a similar mistake.
About The Author
Gp Capt. TP Srivastava is a DSSC alumnus, Gp Capt Srivastava is a military luminary who has written extensively on international relations, strategic affairs & Defence Procurement Procedures for leading strategic journals
(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)