‘Very Rare’: Retd IAF Official on ‘Friendly Fire’ in Budgam Crash
With the 27 February crash of an IAF Mi-17 V-5 chopper at Budgam being 'seen as a case of friendly fire' and the investigation reportedly revealing lapses on the part of senior air force officers, The Quint spoke to Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak (Retd) about the latest developments concerning the incident, which has sparked a controversy.
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.
Here are the excerpts from the conversation:
How do you feel about the fact that this news has come out just after the elections, and whether the government has been sitting on this news for nearly three months?
I would not go along with that assessment.
Because these situations mandatorily demand a court of inquiry, which is based on a preliminary assessment.
It (also) requires detailed examination of facts figures, time and space dimension... All this is the subject of a court of inquiry.
It is perhaps coincidental. Also I do not rule out that information is now put out in the public domain based on the fact that the elections are over. Because if the IAF officers had chosen to speak during the election period, then perhaps they would have been hauled over the coals. This government is unforgiving of any elements who are critical of the government; so it would have caused a problem, I am sure. I have my sympathies with my serving friends on this issue.
The helicopter was in contact with Air Traffic Control but the weapons operators still fired the missiles. What’s the protocol before firing a missile and are there any safety layers to prevent friendly fire?
... (On that day) There (was) a large force engagement involving about 24 Pakistani airforce aircraft and about 12 of ours. This is a very unusual situation.
People on the ground are not familiar with it although pilots are all trained for large force engagement.
There is a protocol. Everyone’s on alert. Aircraft warning and control system, etc are part of the Integrated Air Command and Control System which gives orders to the firing unit.
It is not so much the linkage between the ATC and the firing unit, but critically the linkage between the IACC and the firing unit.
It does seem that this is what we classically call ‘blue on blue engagement’ or ‘fratricide’. In this case, (it was) the very sturdy Mi-17 V5, we don’t have a sturdier helicopter in the air force today.
How common is this ‘blue on blue’ firing?
Very rare and it happens to all air forces.
The IAF response to the large force from Pakistan was exemplary. It was unfortunate that it was a bad day for the IAF because... we lost a MiG-21 Bison. Fortunately the pilot Abhinandan (survived).
What is worse is that we lost a helicopter which was not on a combat mission, but on a routine mission.
What is your overall assessment on the strategic outcome of the 27 February dogfight?
I think it was handled very, very professionally. There has been criticism in the media that why couldn’t we field aircraft superior to the MiG-21 Bison, and therefore have an advantage over the Pakistani intruders. I don’t share that view.
When you see a number of intruders coming in, what is vital to the defence commander is how quickly he can intercept these aircraft and what are the resources at his disposal.
it is my understanding that MiG-21s were the closest, (around) two minutes away, Mirages and Sukhois were further, by which time they (Pakistani jets) would have done the damage.
What is exemplary is that PAF (Pakistani Air Force) let go 5 AMRAAMS air-to-air missiles (AIM 120 c) supplied by US. To that extent, this went copybook style. The Sukhois evaded these missiles through hot and cold strategy.
It would have been a complicated situation for our government because if we had also lost three Sukhois what would the leadership have done, when their whole purpose was not to escalate? To keep escalation dynamics under control, especially under nuclear shadow. Both sides kept it (under) control...
... The political leadership should now ensure that IAF weaknesses should be met on the highest priority.