IAF sacks three officers for BrahMos misfire into Pakistan in March
A court of inquiry held the IAF officers responsible for deviating from standard operating procedures, leading to the accidental firing of the supersonic cruise missile into Pakistan on March 9
Nearly six months after a BrahMos missile was accidentally fired into Pakistan, the central government sacked three Indian Air Force (IAF) officers for lapses that led to the March 9 incident, the IAF said on Tuesday.
A court of inquiry held the IAF officers responsible for deviating from standard operating procedures.
“Three officers have primarily been held responsible for the incident. Their services have been terminated by the central government with immediate effect. Termination orders have been served upon the officers on 23 August 22,” an air force spokesperson said.
The IAF did not reveal the ranks of the three officers in the brief statement, but HT earlier reported that the roles of a group captain and a few other middle-rung officers (wing commander/squadron leader) were under scrutiny after the incident.
HT reported on March 23 that human error was likely the cause of the accidental firing.
“A court of inquiry set up to establish the facts of the case, including fixing responsibility for the incident, found that deviation from the standard operating procedures by three officers led to the accidental firing of the missile,” the IAF said.
“The government and IAF have taken appropriate action. It was a serious incident that demanded tough action,” said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), director general of Centre for Air Power Studies.
The inquiry into the incident, which drew sharp reactions from Pakistan and raised questions about the handling of missile systems, was conducted by a two-star officer.
The ‘group captain’ was in charge of the BrahMos supersonic missile battery when the weapon was launched from a base in the western sector during routine inspection and maintenance of the system, as previously reported.
Union defence minister Rajnath Singh on March 15 expressed regret in Parliament over the incident, and said that standard operating procedures for “operations, maintenance, and inspection” of such systems were being reviewed.
In a statement in both the Houses, the defence minister said, “We attach the highest priority to safety and security of our weapon systems. If any shortcoming is found, the same would be immediately rectified.”
He, however, stressed that the Indian missile system was reliable and safe. “Moreover, our safety procedures and protocols are of the highest order and are reviewed from time to time. Our armed forces are well-trained and disciplined and are experienced in handling such systems.”
Two days after the accidental launch, India on March 11 attributed the incident to a technical malfunction during routine maintenance. Pakistan registered a strong protest over the “unprovoked violation of its airspace by a supersonic flying object of Indian origin”.
Pakistan said the “supersonic flying object” entered its territory from Suratgarh in Rajasthan at 6.43 pm (PST) and crashed into the ground near Mian Chunnu city around 6.50 pm.
The Indian diplomat in Islamabad was told to convey to New Delhi the neighbouring country’s condemnation of the “blatant violation of its airspace in contravention of the established international norms and aviation safety protocols”.
At a media briefing on March 10, a Pakistani military officer said its air defence network picked up the flying object near Sirsa in Haryana around 104 km from the international border at an altitude of 40,000 feet.
He said it was flying at a speed of Mach 2.5 to Mach 3. The missile appeared to be heading towards the Mahajan field firing ranges in Rajasthan, but after flying 70-80 km, it changed track to head north-west towards Pakistani airspace, he said.
In another statement on March 12, Pakistan said the incident raised questions regarding security protocols and technical safeguards against the accidental or unauthorised launch of missiles in a nuclearised environment. Islamabad demanded a joint probe and asked India to explain the measures and procedures in place to prevent future accidental missile launches.