IAF Revelation of Accidental Firing BrahMos: Concerns and Implications

The recent revelation by the Indian Air Force (IAF) claims the accidental firing of BrahMos combat missile in neighboring territory, in March 2022. Though the facts and reasons provided are insufficient, this development has raised serious concerns of safety of critical and lethal weapons in possession of Indian forces and its implications for the region. As well as, accountability and regulation within the organization. After two years, IAF revealed the cause of BrahMos incident that ‘the combat connectors of the missile remained connected to the junction box, causing the accidental firing.’ IAF further shared that the convoy commander of convoy, which was to move to location as part of inspection ‘failed to ensure safe transit of convoy by not ensuring disconnection of combat connectors of all missiles loaded’ on the mobile autonomous launcher prior to the movement. The Court of Inquiry held that combat crew despite knowing that the combat connectors are connected to the junction box, failed to intervene to prevent the convoy commander from committing an unsafe act of launching a Live Missile. The situation has caused damage to the reputation of IAF and a loss of ₹24,90,85,000.

The revelation itself stands concerning and displays the irresponsible personnel as well as reliability and safety check of critical weapon equipment. The court findings raise two questions; Is IAF capable and responsible enough to be in possession of such sophisticated and lethal weapon systems? Does the blame game scenario suggest any mad commander dilemma as depicted in famous Cold War movie Dr Strangelove.

Missile Technicalities and Chance of Accidental Fire

Missiles are a complex and sophisticated technology, evolved and improved over time. With complex material assembly and functional accuracy, each missile component requires a very extensive equipment testing. The missile itself needs not only prior-to-launch but also periodic assessment and inspection while being in storage. The reliability checks for all components and materials used in a missile are necessary to be ensured and checked multiple times to prevent failure, accidental launch or misfire. In case of BrahMos fire into neighboring territory, it is revealed that the combat connectors of the missile remained connected to the junction box.

A guided missile launching and arming mechanism requires three to four distinct sequential occurrences be provided before the arming takes place. The power source should be uninterrupted and the arming occurs at predetermined safe distance above the launchers after the take-off. In missiles, particularly the guided ones, interconnect solutions are used as one critical component that enables the communication and control between various subsystems of the missile i.e., warhead, guidance system and arming and firing elements. Few of such connectors are circular electrical connectors that connects the electrical systems within the missile and are designed for high reliability and ruggedness in harsh environments.

In case of BrahMos, the highlighted combat connectors as per findings are the type of connecting solutions that act as linkage between the guidance system and its launcher system that sends the activation codes/ signals. In these complex linkages, the missile junction box acts as an electrical junction, enclosing the electric circuits and wiring which ensures the safe and controlled power supply as required. Equipment testing and inspection phases are multistage where repeated checks and updates are being incorporated under the set safety and operational protocols. These include training connectors rather than combat connectors that are used for live weapons. During training, inspection or transportation, safety protocols are ensured to prevent sending firing and launch pulses.

Usually in case of any malfunction or error, flashing light indicators warn the operators/convoy commander about the emergency condition caused by the disregard of safety protocols which could be timely taken care of. Where a steady red-light indicator suggests the failure or inoperability, a flashing light indicates an accidental launch or misfire. The apparent justification suggests there could be a technical error occurred where the connectors remained connected or the computer control system failed to assess the difference between live or training weapon. This was further overlooked by operators in charge. Resulting into a mix of technical and human errors which is a rare case and depicts high negligence. The petitioner, Wing Commander Abhinav Sharma, clearly claims the dismissal of red-light warning, which indicated a disregard for safety protocols at higher levels of command. This again signals a deliberate preplanned attempt and later covering it up with false allegation on three officers.

IAF – Organizational Incompetency

Whether an accidental or deliberate launch, IAF has failed to ensure the safety and security of its highly sophisticated and critical weapon systems. First, the very occurrence of the incident could have strategic implications provided Pakistan’s comprehension and response. In case of accident, the authorities must have timely communicated the emergency situation to its counterpart in order to avoid any miscalculation and accidental war. Rather, IAF tried to cover up the situation in silence, risking retaliation and war. The continued mis adventurism and testing the nuclear threshold could take the risk of escalation to a dangerous level.

Most significantly, the incident and the recent findings displays incompetency of convoy commander and Combat Team as well as sharp discrepancies between the statements of higher official and the officers who witnessed the incident. The disagreements and resentment within the organization could increase the chances of mishaps and mischievous acts. Another fact which could not be ignored is the growing extremist mindset and Hindutva ideology which is ingraining extremist and irrational decision-making in an average Hindu living in India. This leads to a serious concern of making a real-time mad commander situation who could take control in existing questionable command and control system of India’s nuclear forces. Deliberate or accidental, the risk of war is unavoidable provided IAF and Indian political leadership’s actions.

Rather than bringing out satisfactory answers to normalize relations with Pakistan, the reason of BrahMos incident revealed by IAF has caused far more dubious assumptions. With each offensive development from India, the reliability of the safety and security mechanism of its strategic forces become more questionable and a threat to regional stability and peace. International community must seek more detailed explanation and concrete actions by IAF to prevent any such happenings in the future.


About Hananah Zarrar 2 Articles
Hananah Zarrar is MPhil scholar of National Defence University, Islamabad.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.