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News: There was an accidental launch of an IAF cruise missile that landed 124 km inside Pakistan. The missile did not carry any warhead. Thus, there was no loss of lives.
What could have been the impact?
India’s global image and reputation of being a responsible nuclear power is challenged by the incident.
India and Pakistan do not have any robust risk-reduction protocols or mechanisms to deal with such mishaps. If Pakistan had air defence systems, it could have easily judged it as a hostile attack and retaliated. Also, the reaction time in the event of missile launches is only a matter of minutes.
It could have resulted into escalation between two nuclear-powered countries which are undergoing strains in their relations in recent years.
How was the potential crisis averted?
A potential crisis was averted by right diplomatic responses from both sides. Indian side admitted to a “technical malfunction” that led to the accidental firing of a missile.
A “high-level” enquiry has been ordered to investigate the incident and recommend appropriate action to prevent a repeat.
Argument by Pakistan
Inadequate explanation from Indian Side: The Indian government has not revealed either the nature of the missile, nor the location from which it was fired, nor which of the services fired it. It is Pakistan which claimed that an unarmed supersonic missile was fired from the Sirsa Air Force Base. It could have been the Brahmos cruise surface-to-air missile.
Pakistan has alleged that the incident “indicates many loopholes and technical lapses of a serious nature in the Indian handling of strategic weapons”.
Enquiry into the incident: Pakistan has demanded for a joint probe to investigate into the incident. It has also requested that the international community be involved to promote “strategic stability in the region”.
India’s Stand against Pakistan demand
Indian government has rejected the Pakistani demand for a joint probe. Further, it has refuted the claims that it was a Brahmos missile. Indian side stated that all Brahmos trials take place in the eastern part of India or on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands of India.
Status of Missile Regime in India
India became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime in 2016. Thus, India is seen as a reliable defence partner that is capable of handling its strengths and contributing to global security. India is developing more missile systems, including a hypersonic variant.
Suggestions for the way ahead
Indian side must give information on the incident as inadequate explanation leaves scope for Pakistan to shape the narrative on this incident if Indian inputs are not provided.
New Delhi and Islamabad must work out a risk-reduction protocol that can help diffuse the misunderstandings and prevent hostile responses to any kind of accident or false alarm.
If it was due to human error: In this case the operational, command and control procedures must be reviewed.
If it was due to a technical glitch: It cast doubts over the weapon system itself, especially at a time when India is looking to export BrahMos to countries like the Philippines. For example, in 1983, during the cold war, the nuclear early warning radar of the USSR reported the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles from the US. But the Soviet officer Stanislav Petrov prevented the WWIII by rightly judging that the warning was false due to malfunctioning detection systems.
- The post is based on an article “Hit and Miss” published in the Business Standard on 13th March 2022.
- The post is based on an article “Truly Scary moment: IAF must thoroughly investigate accidental missile launch” published in the Times of India on 13th March 2022.
- The post is based on an article “Unguided missile: On a malfunction and Pakistan’s probe demand” published in the Hindu on 14th March 2022.