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BrahMos cruise missile cannot be mistaken for a nuclear-tipped missile?

Source :  Ajai Shukla / Business Standard

BrahMos cruise missile cannot be mistaken for a nuclear-tipped missile???
BrahMos missile test firing (File Photo)

The accidental launch last Wednesday (March 9) of a supersonic BrahMos cruise missile from India into Pakistani territory has built up into a diplomatic kerfuffle between New Delhi and Islamabad, despite the Indian government taking responsibility for the incident. 

On March 11, an official New Delhi release admitted that “In the course of a routine maintenance, a technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile.”

“India has taken a serious view and ordered a high-level Court of Enquiry (Inquiry),” stated New Delhi.

Admitting that the missile landed in Pakistan, New Delhi stated: “While the incident is deeply regrettable, it is also a matter of relief that there has been no loss of life due to the accident.”

A day earlier, Islamabad had summoned India’s Charge d’Affaires (Cd’A) in Islamabad and protested “the unprovoked violation of its airspace by an Indian origin supersonic flying object which entered into Pakistan from Suratgarh, India at 18:43 hours (6:43 p.m. Pakistan time) the previous day (i.e. on March 9).

Pakistan said the missile “fell to ground near Mian Chunnu city in Pakistan at around 18:50 hours the same day, causing damage to civilian property.”

India’s Cd’A was told that the flying object had damaged civilian property, put at risk human lives on ground and endangered domestic /international flights within Pakistani airspace.Islamabad wasted no time in launching a propaganda offensive against New Delhi. On March 12, a Pakistani release criticised Indian “security protocols and technical safeguards against accidental or unauthorized launch of missiles in a nuclearized environment.”

It demanded that India explain its procedures to prevent accidental missile launches and the particular circumstances of this incident. By then, it was well known that a BrahMos missile had gone out of control, but Islamabad demanded details from India. 

Addressing Indian launch experts, Pakistan asked: “Are Indian missiles kept primed for launch even under routine maintenance?”Hitting back at frequent international criticism that Pakistani missiles risked falling into the hands of terrorists, Islamabad countered: “Given the profound level of incompetence, India needs to explain if the missile was indeed handled by its armed forces or some rogue elements?”

Rejecting India’s proposal for an internal court of inquiry, Islamabad demanded a joint probe to accurately establish the facts.New Delhi has issued bare-bones clarifications and elaborations, but has not brought out several important facts.

First, since the missile that was fired had been identified at the very outset as a BrahMos cruise missile, there was no question of a misunderstanding by Pakistan that India had launched a strategic nuclear weapon.

It is a tenet of India’s nuclear launch posture that strategic weapons – commonly referred to as “nukes”, or nuclear-tipped missiles – are invariably delivered via ballistic missiles, never via cruise missiles. So there was little prospect of a cruise missile, fired from Sirsa or elsewhere, spooking Pakistan into setting off a nuclear exchange.

Since the cruise missile had been launched from near Sirsa, it would have almost certainly been identified by Pakistan’s air defence network as a BrahMos air launched cruise missile (ALCM). That is because Sirsa is home to a major air force base, but not to any army BrahMos units, which are restricted to the strike corps.

Thirdly, the violation of Indian launch protocols is not a matter of grave concern in an accidental BrahMos ALCM launch. Unlike in the launch of a strategic, nuclear-tipped ballistic missile, where a two-person launch protocol is mandatory, this is not so in the case of a BrahMos ALCM launched from a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter.

In the latter case, once armament is loaded and activated, there is no requirement for a two-person protocol to protect its launch. Since there is always the possibility of one pilot being rendered casualty and, therefore, unable to play his role in triggering a launch sequence, a single-person firing protocol is regarded as sufficient for an ALCM.

That still leaves unanswered the question: How did the BrahMos ALCM get fired? The “high-level Court of Enquiry (Inquiry)” that has already been constituted will obtain the answer to that.

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