The Government of India has been making as many twists and turns over the embarrassing BrahMos incident as had Pakistan claimed the missile made during its flight path toward Mian Channu in southern Punjab. After causing international embarrassment of the highest order, the government and its ‘sources’ have changed their position on the launch of the missile from the plausible to the fantastic. None of the positions taken does anything to redeem the damage done to India’s current image of being a technologically irresponsible military power. The shifting positions only underline inefficiency as well as shoddy command and control, which of course lies at the root of this incident.
The missile story and its glide path
The story began with complete silence despite Pakistan making an official statement and complaint. It was only on 11 March that the inexplicable reticence gave way to an official acknowledgement that something had gone wrong. “On 9 March 2022, in the course of routine maintenance, a technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile. The Government of India has taken a serious view and ordered a high-level court of enquiry,” the Ministry of Defence said in a statement. Initially, it wasn’t even confirmed what missile it was, and that led to further speculation. Lack of clarity compounded errors.
This was followed by an extraordinary briefing from a ‘source’ who confirmed “accidental firing” but went on to share operational details which clearly call into question an appropriate sense of responsibility and prudence. Sources in the defence and security establishment told ThePrint that — contrary to Pakistan’s claims of the missile suddenly veering off from its flight path to Rajasthan’s Mahajan Field Firing Range from Haryana’s Sirsa and heading towards its territory — it followed the trajectory that it would have in case of a conflict, but “certain factors” played a role in ensuring that any pre-fed target was out of danger. Sources also said that the missile followed the correct trajectory.
The ‘source’ went on to declare, ‘that an inspection and protocol revision was being carried out at a secret satellite base, not Sirsa,’ when the missile was launched. To use ‘secret’ and ‘satellite’ in the same sentence is an act of extraordinary aplomb for in this era of remote sensing, there is nothing secret from a satellite anymore. Even if Pakistan didn’t know the location of this ‘secret satellite base’, that is not Sirsa, access to daily use algebra will give them sufficient idea where to find this covert facility. The only secrecy being maintained is from the people of India.
The defence minister has added another turn in the controversy by declaring that ‘the Indian missile, which had landed in Pakistan last week, was an “inadvertent release” during an inspection at a secret satellite base of the Indian Air Force’. Officially now there was no ‘routine maintenance’ or ‘technical malfunction’, just plain and simple accidental firing. He simply mirrored something already highlighted by a well-informed columnist who wrote, “On March 9, during a Directorate of Air Staff Inspection (DASI) exercise at an Indian Air Force (IAF) base in north India, a BrahMos missile got accidentally fired and landed in Pakistan. The missile was without a warhead, it crashed harmlessly.”
Also read: Why near-disaster BrahMos accident is an opportunity for India & Pakistan to discuss safety
A grave error
Military memes, circulated within the armed forces community, mocked the ‘technical malfunction led to the accidental firing’ claim with a brutality that is unrepeatable here. For the armed forces know, above all, the gravity of any accidental firing. Even the inadvertent firing of a small arm is treated with the seriousness that it deserves, for the smallest bullet can take a life, accidentally. So within the military community, the BrahMos incident is being regarded as grave error. It is high time the Air Force takes the matter to its logical conclusion. As it is certainly not the first such in the recent past.
Even as it grapples with the Court Martial proceedings of the tragic Budgam friendly fire case, the Air Force has done nothing to answer questions about another near tragic incident. That was also reckless firing, but hasn’t led to any action taken. Such lapses when overlooked come back to haunt the Service, and now the Air Force has a lot to answer who and why one of their own pressed the launch button of supersonic cruise missile. For it has dented India’s image of being responsible, and technologically in control.
Manvendra Singh is a Congress leader and Editor-in-Chief of Defence & Security Alert. He tweets @ManvendraJasol. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)