Indian Air Force Veterans have expressed disapproval at the IAF plan to initiate criminal proceedings against the IAF officers and personnel who accidentally shot down a friendly Mi-17 V5 helicopter, that killed six IAF men a civilian on the ground. The helicopter crashed on February 27 when IAF and Pakistan Air Force fighters were locked in an air battle over a 100 km away near Nowshera over the LoC. With all the air assets and air defence batteries on high alert, the Terminal Weapons Director (TWD) is believed to have accidentally misidentified the IAF helicopter as a low-flying enemy aircraft or an armed unmanned drone and decided to fire the Israeli-origin Spyder Medium Range Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) that brought it down, a preliminary probe has revealed. The Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of Srinagar has already been transferred out as a result of the ongoing investigation.
Another aspect the Court of Inquiry (CoI) will look into whether the Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) check was undertaken by the IAF’s air defence unit. An IFF is a transponder aboard an aircraft that sends out a coded signal that can help identify it. “Either the IFF did not work properly, or it was not switched on, or the Air Defence crew mistakenly ignored the IFF signal or did not run an IFF check. All this will be examined in the CoI. The IAF will not shy away from identifying and punishing the men responsible for the mistake,” said a senior IAF officer. The role of the Chief Operations Officer will also be examined, where it will be ascertained if the order to fire the missile was given on phone or he was present in the control room.
IAF Veterans are however terming the IAF plans to consider criminal proceedings as “disproportionately harsh”, saying friendly fire is an inadvertent and common phenomenon during the fog of war. “Punishing the officers for lapses that caused fratricide is correct since mistakes cannot go unpunished. But trying them for criminal charges is utterly wrong since it is not done deliberately. With the entire air force in the north on hair trigger alert, such mistakes do happen,” said Gp Capt TP Srivastava (Retd), a former MiG-21 pilot. Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (Retd) too said while procedural lapses and coordination mistakes should be examined and punished, trying the officers for criminal charges is uncalled for. “It should not hinder the officers’ decision making ability,” he said.
Air Marshal PP Rajkumar (Retd) said the air defence battery certainly did not purposely shoot at a friendly aircraft and that the number of aircraft and the tension at the moment would naturally cause confusion. “The mystery behind the IFF should primarily be resolved. But trying the men for culpable homicide is uncalled since the mistake is quite common amongst even foreign militaries,” he said.