At a time when the Russia-Ukraine war has occupied the world’s attention, a missile was mysteriously fired elsewhere.
In the evening of Wednesday last week, a missile got accidentally fired during a “routine” inspection of weapon systems at a military base at Haryana. The missile crossed over to Pakistan and crashed at Mian Channu at the Punjab province of Pakistan.
The missile in question was apparently a BrahMos that was fired by the Indian Air Force (IAF) during an inspection. India has not officially confirmed either. BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles are considered among the modern strategic assets in the Indian military’s arsenal.
On Thursday late evening, Pakistan’s military publicity wing Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) broke the news to the world with a press conference.
India then issued a short statement expressing regret on the incident. India officially said that during a routine maintenance, a technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile and the Government of India, taking a serious view of it, has ordered a high-level Court of Inquiry.
Pakistan subsequently demanded a joint probe into the incident and sought to know why India failed to inform it immediately about the accidental launch of the missile and if it was indeed handled by its armed forces or some rogue elements.
On Tuesday, defence minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament about the inadvertent release of a missile around 7pm during a routine inspection on March 9.
More notably, he said a review of the standard operating procedures for operations, maintenance and inspections is being conducted after the incident. He added that India attaches highest priority to safety and security of its weapon systems and any shortcoming, if found, would be immediately rectified.
India’s statement does not set the record straight. The inquiry report, if made public, may throw some light on whether it is purely a system or a human error or a combination of both, given the sheer number of checks and procedures involved in the launch or testing of a missile system, more so for a sophisticated missile system such as the BrahMos.
OF BRAHMOS AND CRUISE MISSILES
Developed by BrahMos Aerospace —a joint venture between India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia — Brahmos is a supersonic cruise missile which can be launched from land, aircraft, surface ships or submarines.
While the BrahMos with the Army, Navy and the IAF differ in certain specifications, a cruise missile largely has a pre-set target to which it navigates with the help of an inertial or satellite GPS guidance system.
They are mated with warheads when fired to destroy specific targets, can strike with high precision and are difficult to detect by anti-missile systems.
HOW ARE MISSILES FIRED?
In the latest incident, a missile accidentally got fired during a military inspection.
It is understood that when a supersonic missile such as BrahMos is launched from the ground, multiple people have control over the process. The coordinates of the target to be hit are pre-fed and a notice to airmen or NOTAM is issued, notifying the area of such a test.
Even then, the warhead is never mated with a missile and in most cases, the holding missile unit does not keep a warhead ready for firing.
Defence officials in the know explained that even before a missile is launched, it takes a few minutes for a variety of system tests during the pre-ignition stage to take place and at this point too, the launch can be aborted.
Once launched, a missile meant for training purposes can be controlled for a certain distance, beyond which it is automated.
While during technical simulation tests, it is unlikely for a base to carry out an actual firing of a missile, it can be done if the military is carrying out an operational functionality test.
The inquiry ordered may throw light on the reasons for the accidental launch of the missile and what exactly went wrong in deviation from the SOPs. It may also answer if the mechanisms to stop it immediately after its launch were applied, if they worked, and if there was anything which could have been done differently to prevent an accident like this.
With a Bloomberg report stating that Pakistan, too, was preparing for a retaliatory attack, the answers are critical not just because the accident involves two nuclear armed countries that are not friends, but also to clear the air on the missile system considered one of the best in any military’s inventory.
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