Investigation into the 27 February crash of an IAF Mi-17 V-5 chopper at Budgam near Srinagar has reportedly revealed lapses on the part of senior air force officers, say two separate reports.
While one of the reports suggests that the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of the Srinagar Air Base has been removed, the other report says that a ‘senior officer’ may face homicide charges, without mentioning the officer’s designation.
Here is a lowdown of what went wrong and how, in the incident that killed six IAF personnel and a civilian:
What Happened on 27 February?
The Mi-17 V-5 helicopter crashed within a 10-minute span when IAF jets were scrambling to ward off PAF fighters who were approaching Indian airspace. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was involved in this dogfight with the Pakistani fighter jets.
In March, the IAF said it was investigating ‘all angles’ including ‘friendly fire’
What’s the Latest Development?
While the Court-of-Inquiry (CoI) continues to investigate the matter and a final report has not yet been submitted, initial findings have reportedly revealed 'several violations of standard operating procedures', leading to possible action against the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of the Srinagar Air Base.
An Economic Times report suggests that the incident is now being 'seen as a case of friendly fire' and one officer could be charged with 'culpable homicide, not amounting to murder'.
The report does not specify the officer, even as it says that the Terminal Weapons Director’s (TWD) role is under the scanner as he is believed to have cleared the launch of the missile which led to the crash.
The role of TWD rotates between the AOC of a base and the second-in-charge, the Chief Operations Officer (COO). Economic Times quotes sources to report that the TWD on duty, in this case, was the COO.
AOC Reportedly Sacked
A separate report on the same issue by The Hindustan Times, however, suggests that the AOC at the Srinagar base has been removed as “the incident happened on his watch”.
A Tribune report also suggests the same.
What Were the Lapses?
The Economic Times and Hindustan Times reports quote initial findings to suggest that the chopper was downed by a surface-to-air Spyder missile of the IAF, which mistook the aircraft to be hostile.
However, there were reportedly other misses too.
- The helicopter was not designated a ‘Red’ target by IAF’s Barnala-based Integrated Air Command & Control System (IACCS) which monitors incoming aircraft from Pakistan, Economic Times’ report suggests. However, despite that, the Spyder unit "reported a lock down" and "order to fire was issued".
- According to Hindustan Times, the Identification of Friend or Foe (IFF) – an identification system that informs the air defence radars whether incoming aircraft is friendly – was switched off, against the laid-down protocol.
- The HT report also says that as the dogfight between Indian and Pakistani jets intensified, the helicopter should ideally have been "sent away to a safer zone", but was instead "called back to base".
The final report on the matter is yet to be submitted, which the Economic Times report suggests “could take several more months, or even close to a year”. Meanwhile, a senior defence ministry official told Hindustan Times that “there will be no tolerance of lapses”.
As far as due process is concerned, a 'summary of evidence', which is "akin to chargesheets in civil proceedings" will now be issued in the inquiry. Once the 'summary of evidence' is issued, a formal court martial may commence.
(With inputs from Economic Times and Hindustan Times)
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