Three Indian Air Force (IAF) officers have been terminated from service for the accidential firing of an Indian missile in March that had landed inside Pakistan.
The missile, identified later as a BrahMos missile, was launched accidentally on March 9 "in the course of a routine maintenance" due to "a technical malfunction", the Defence Ministry had said at the time.
The termination of the three IAF officers comes after a high-level investigation found them responsible for the missile launch. It found that they had deviated from standard operating procedures (SOPs). The officers have been terminated "with immediate effect", said the Defence Ministry.
The missile had landed near Mian Chunnu city in Pakistan's Punjab province. It did not cause any damage to civilian property.
The Defence Ministry on Tuesday said: "A BrahMos missile was accidentally fired on March 9. A Court of Inquiry (Col), set up to establish the facts of the case, including fixing responsibility for the incident, found that deviation from the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) by three officers led to the accidental firing of the missile.
"These three officers have primarily been held responsible for the incident. Their services have been terminated by the central government with immediate effect. Termination orders have been served upon the officers on August 23."
What we know of the investigation, launch
It has been reported that a Group Captain of the IAF has been held responsible for the accidential launch.
The Econonmic Times earlier reported that this officer "was in charge of the mobile battery unit of the Brahmos and was present at the location when the incident took place".
The ET further reported that missile was fired when its unit was undergoing a safety and operational efficiency inspection at its base in Haryana and the Group Captain mentioned above failed to maintain safety standards.
Though tehcnical malfunction was mentioned in the March 11 press release, the Defence Ministry's statement on Tuesday is in line with an earlier report which blamed deviation from SOPs rather than any technical issue.
Business World reported earlier: "It appears that the inbuilt mechanical and electronic locks of the 290 km range supersonic missile system had been overridden as a consequence of the violation of SOPs. The missile launch could not be aborted as it does not have a self-destruct mechanism."
How Pakistan reacted to missile launch
Pakistan had reacted sharply to the incident and had rejected the Indian explanation. The launch also caused diplomatic embarassment for New Delhi as Pakistan mounted a shrap offensive with calls of a joint investigation.
Pakistan's Foreign Office (FO) at the time said that the incident raised several fundamental questions regarding security protocols and technical safeguards against accidental or unauthorised missile launch in a nuclearised environment.
"Such a serious matter cannot be addressed with the simplistic explanation proffered by the Indian authorities,” it said, adding that some of the questions should be answered.
“Indian decision to hold an internal court of inquiry is not sufficient since the missile ended up in Pakistani territory. Pakistan demands a joint probe to accurately establish the facts surrounding the incident,” it said.
“India must explain the measures and procedures in place to prevent accidental missile launches and the particular circumstances of this incident,” the FO said, adding that India must clearly explain the type and specifications of the missile that fell in Pakistani territory.
Pakistan also noted the two-delay in India admitting the accidental launch of the missile as India published the press release on March 11.
Questions on safety of missiles
Pakistan also said that India needs to explain if the missile was indeed handled by its armed forces or some rogue elements.
The comment was a sharp comment from Pakistan, and an embarrassment, for India as questions had long been raised about the safety of Pakistan nuclear assets because of the presence of Islamist and jihadist elements within the country. However, the accidental and unauthorised launch of an Indian missile into Pakistan gave Pakistan a chance to raise similar questions regarding India.
Outlook's Seema Guha noted, "The nuclear non-proliferation lobby in the US had always expressed concern about the safety of nuclear weapons and their handling by India and Pakistan. In the past, there were questions about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, with some expressing concern that jihadis could take control. The current incident will raise issues of safety on the Indian side."
(With PTI inputs)