New Delhi: “S&*t happens” is what a top official said when a Mi-17 V5 chopper of the Indian Air Force (IAF) crashed in Jammu and Kashmir’s Budgam district, killing six service personnel and a civilian on ground.
While a formal Court of Inquiry (CoI) is still on, all indications are that it could be a result of a friendly fire that took place in the “fog of war”, even though all possibilities are being looked into.
On 27 February, the helicopter crashed around the time IAF fighters were engaged in a dogfight with at least two dozen Pakistan Air Force planes along the Line of Control (LoC) in the Nowshera sector, around 100 km away from Budgam.
Indian air defence systems were put on operational alert. The crash site was too far for even the outside possibility of a stray Beyond Visual Range Missile hitting it.
There has been immense speculation from the day of the crash about the circumstances that led to it. The helicopter took off and crashed within the same 10-minute period when the air skirmish was on 100 km away, and the region’s airbases and military installations were on high-trigger alert.
Sources say that a Spyder short range surface-to-air missile was fired and there are witnesses to it.
The CoI is looking into the circumstances that led to the helicopter crash with top defence sources maintaining that the force will not shy away from fixing responsibility and taking action.
The CoI is also ascertaining whether or not the Identify, Friend or Foe (IFF) system in the helicopter was switched on.
A number of interviews with service personnel and video recordings are being used to identify the cause and lapses that led to the incident.
Past incidents of friendly fire
Even if the CoI does conclude this was a case of friendly fire, this would not be the first time this has happened.
Friendly fire, in fact, is the military’s bane across the world.
On 29 April 1987, Wing Commander Amjad Javed of Pakistan Air Force had shot down his own wingman, Flight Lieutenant Shahid, mistaking him for an enemy.
Right from the Battle of Barnet in 1471 to the Afghanistan war, almost all countries that have gone to war have been impacted by it.
In 2014, five American soldiers were killed in a US air strike in Afghanistan. Friendly fire has been described as “an element of war that is older than the nation”.
In Afghanistan, many American and Afghan soldiers have been killed in such incidents.
During the Iraq war, US troops killed at least seven and wounded 34 of their compatriots in 18 suspected friendly fire incidents.
An earlier version of the report referred to the Identify, Friend or Foe (IFF) system as the ‘Identify, Friend of Foe (IFF) system’. The error has been corrected.