Not Pakistan, An IAF Missile Shot Down Its Own Mi-17 Chopper On February 27
Six IAF personnel and one civilian were killed in the military escalations between India and Pakistan that followed the Balakot airstrikes.
On February 27, a day after the Balakot airstrikes took place, as Indian and Pakistani jets were engaged in a dogfight in the Nowshera sector, a Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter of the Indian Air Force (IAF) got caught in friendly fire and crashed. The aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile of the IAF which mistook the aircraft to be hostile, reported Sudhi Ranjan Sen of the Hindustan Times.
All six airmen on board the helicopter were reportedly killed. A civilian was killed on the ground as well.
The IAF removed the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of the Srinagar Air Base, the senior-most officer of the base, and a Court-of-Inquiry (CoI) is investigating the matter.
According to Vishnu Som’s report in NDTV, the inquiry committee will submit its report on the accidental shoot down in 20 days. Sources told NDTV that the helicopter had no knowledge that it was under attack. The sequences of events lasted approximately 12 seconds — the duration between the Israeli-made SPYDER surface-to-air missile being launched and the moment of impact.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, a senior defence ministry official who wished to remain anonymous said that the IAF is considering slapping “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” as one of the charges against those found guilty. “There will be no tolerance of lapses,” he said, adding, “Unprecedented as it might be, IAF leadership is clear that such lapses are not repeated.”
And lapses there were.
As NDTV‘s report indicated, with active air battle raging on, air defences across Kashmir were on the highest state of alert, which included surface-to-air missile units. When air defence radars at Srinagar airport picked up a low flying aircraft on their screens, unable to identify it through the Identification, Friend or Foe (IFF) transponder — a system specifically designed to ensure that friendly-fire incidents are avoided during the heat of battle — the senior officer manning the post of Terminal Weapons Director (TWD) gave orders to fire.
The report mentioned that it is unclear if the IAF helicopter’s IFF was switched off or was not functioning at the time when it was shot down. Hindustan Times, however, reported that the IFF was indeed switched off, against the laid down protocol, adding that the Srinagar Air Base had issued orders contradictory to the IAF directive: All aircraft coming into land to have their IFF systems on.
Hindustan Times further reported that the air traffic control had called the helicopter back even as air engagement between Indian and Pakistani fighters intensified. Another defence ministry source under the condition of anonymity told the daily, “Ideally, the helicopter should have been sent away to safer zone instead of it being called back to the base. The incoming helicopter should have been vectored into the pre-designated zone meant for friendly aircraft to hold till the alert was called off.”
It is unclear, reported NDTV, whether the TWD inquired and was told by the Air Traffic Controller (ATC) that no friendly aircraft were flying in the area or why details of the movement of the Mi-17 helicopter were not available with the officer in the first place.
A video showing the missile streaking towards the helicopter exists and is reportedly part of the body of evidence which has been presented. A senior IAF officer, however, told NDTV that “The helicopter was 6-7 kilometres away. There is no way that a camera was present to zoom into the point of impact at that range.”