The recent revelation by the Indian Air Force (IAF) claims the accidental firing of a BrahMos combat missile in the neighboring territory, in March 2022. Though the facts and reasons provided are insufficient, this development has raised serious concerns about the safety of critical and lethal weapons in the 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 the BrahMos incident ‘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, who was to move to the location as part of the inspection ‘failed to ensure safe transit of convoy by not ensuring disconnection of combat connectors of all missiles loaded’ on the mobile autonomous launcher before the movement.

The Court of Inquiry held that the 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 concerns and displays the irresponsible personnel and the reliability and safety checks 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 the famous Cold War movie Dr Strangelove?

Missile Technicalities and Chance of Accidental Fire

Missiles are a complex and sophisticated technology that has evolved and improved over time. With complex material assembly and functional accuracy, each missile component requires very extensive equipment testing. The missile needs not only prior to launch but also periodic assessment and inspection while 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 the 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 to be provided before the arming takes place. The power source should be uninterrupted, and the arming should occur at a predetermined safe distance above the launchers after take-off. In missiles, particularly the guided ones, interconnect solutions are used as one critical component that enables communication and control between various missile subsystems, i.e., warheads, guidance systems, and arming and firing elements.

A few such connectors are circular electrical connectors that connect the electrical systems within the missile and are designed for high reliability and ruggedness in harsh environments.

In the case of BrahMos, the highlighted combat connectors as per findings are the connecting solutions that link 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, ensuring the required safe and controlled power supply.

Equipment testing and inspection phases are multistage, where repeated checks and updates are incorporated into the set safety and operational protocols. These include training rather than combat connectors used for live weapons. Safety protocols are ensured during training, inspection, or transportation 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 disregarding safety protocols, which could be taken care of promptly. Where a steady red light indicator suggests 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 weapons. This was further overlooked by the operators in charge.

This results in a mix of technical and human errors, a rare case that depicts high negligence. The petitioner, Wing Commander Abhinav Sharma, clearly claims the dismissal of the red-light warning, which indicated a disregard for safety protocols at higher levels of command. This again signals a deliberate preplanned attempt and later covers it up with false allegations against 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 an accident, the authorities must have communicated the emergency situation to their counterpart to avoid any miscalculation and accidental war. Rather, the IAF tried to cover up the situation in silence, risking retaliation and war. The continued misadventures and testing of the nuclear threshold could take the risk of escalation to a dangerous level.

Most significantly, the incident and the recent findings display the incompetency of the convoy commander and Combat Team and sharp discrepancies between the statements of higher officials 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 that cannot be ignored is the growing extremist mindset and Hindutva ideology which is ingraining extremist and irrational decision-making in the average Hindu living in India.

This leads to a serious concern about creating a real-time mad commander situation who could take control of the 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 for the BrahMos incident revealed by IAF has caused far more dubious assumptions. With each offensive development from India, the reliability of its strategic forces’ safety and security mechanisms becomes more questionable and a threat to regional stability and peace. The international community must seek more detailed explanations and concrete actions by the IAF to prevent any such happenings in the future.

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