Is it true, or only Pakistani propaganda?
It is true, and the Indian government has acknowledged it with regret.
Which missile was it?
From the flight path described, we can surmise that it was a BrahMos missile.
India developed it in collaboration with Russia and therefore named it after two rivers in the two countries: Brahmaputra and Moskva.
Brahmaputra, of course, is in India and Moskva (pronounced Musk-Wah) river is in Russia, after which the Russian capital gets its name, but is called Moscow in English.
What type of missile is it?
BrahMos is a supersonic cruise missile.
Supersonic means it flies faster than the speed of sound, up to three times, depending on the flight profile, which can vary between a few feet above the earth to very high altitudes.
And cruise means it has an air breathing jet engine and so it must travel within the earth’s atmosphere, unlike a ballistic missile which is rocket propelled into the space and then free-falls back to the target, using only earth’s gravity.
Was the missile armed?
As a matter of routine precaution, warheads – even conventional ones, but especially nuclear ones – are fitted on the weapons only after multi-layered clearances which need to be doubly authenticated.
And an actual firing – in anger, as the soldiers call it – is only authorised under specific circumstances.
Thus, we can be sure that the missile which got accidentally launched was unarmed.
So, even if the relations are not too cordial, accidental firing of an armed missile across the border is not a possibility.
What if the missile was armed?
There is an additional critical mechanism in all weapons systems called Safety and Arming Unit (SAFU).
It can be programmed pre-launch to prevent a premature detonation of the warhead. SAFU can also be controlled post launch, if the missile has a two-way data link.
What caused this accidental launch?
A short-circuit in launch command electronics can cause this kind of accident, but there are supposed to be minimum three layers of safety in any weapons system.
So, we will have to wait for the report of the Court of Inquiry to understand what exactly went wrong.
That something did go wrong is beyond doubt, but what is encouraging and heart-warming is that both India and Pakistan have handled the situation quite maturely.
India has unconditionally accepted its mistake, and dropping the usual jingoistic rhetoric, Pakistan has not used it for its normal anti-India rant.
Why couldn’t we change the missile’s direction?
The missile has a pre-programmed navigation system, and a major course correction is not possible after launch.
How much of the missile is recoverable for study?
That depends upon the impact point, the softness of the soil and various other factors.
From the photographs available online, very little seems recoverable, but from my experience in aircraft accident investigation, I know experts can piece together a lot of information from burnt and soiled pieces of equipment.
In any case, it is a matter of physics, which applies universally, so there’s not much in this missile that is really very different from other missiles the world over.
Therefore, the remains of that missile will not cause too much excitement, like the time when a Soviet pilot defected with his MiG 25 to Japan in 1976, offering the West a peek into many secret Soviet capabilities that were shockingly ahead of times then.
What about the conspiracy theories one hears about this?
Well, I too have seen some, but the best one, in the well-informed world of WhatsApp University, was this.
Sequence of Events: 1) India bombs Balakot. 2) Pakistan is caught off-guard. 3) Pakistan buys Chinese Air Defence systems. 4) Russia invades Ukraine. 5) China supports Russia and prepares to invade Taiwan. 6) Taiwan calls India to buy the BrahMos missiles. 7) Taiwan wants assurance that BrahMos missile can evade the Chinese Air Defence systems. 8) India test fires a BrahMos missiles into Pakistan. 9) Proves that the Chinese Air Defence systems can’t detect the BrahMos missile. 10) Taiwan places the order for BrahMos missiles.
Fiction though it is, I found it very interesting.
What happens now?
Statement on accidental firing of missile
Posted On: 11 MAR 2022 6:33PM by PIB Delhi
On 9 March 2022, in the course of a routine maintenance, a technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile.
The Government of India has taken a serious view and ordered a high-level Court of Enquiry.
It is learnt that the missile landed in an area of Pakistan. 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.
In a carefully worded public statement, India has acknowledged and accepted the mistake, while obliquely hinting that the missile did not carry any warhead.
One could wonder why the statement came two days too late, but there must have been immediate passing of information on the 9th itself, possibly followed by hot tempers as well as some undiplomatic verbal exchanges between the military brasses in the choicest Punjabi!
Expectedly, the social media are flooded with jokes and questions about the incident, from the light-hearted to the ominous:
‘Indian missile landed in Pakistan. In retaliation, Pakistan fired a missile, which too landed in Pakistan!’
The most alarming, of course, was the question, ‘What if it had a nuclear warhead?’
Pakistan has demanded a ‘joint probe’ into the incident and that of course, will never happen!
They’ll whine and whimper a bit, but beyond that, nothing more will, and should happen.
That, in itself, is a sign that despite the regular, seemingly trigger-happy, tactical level incidents, there are robust strategic confidence-building measures (CBMs) in place between the two countries to avoid accidental flare-ups.
And that is the best outcome of this accident.
© Avinash Chikte