Accidental BrahMos Missile Launch into Pakistan : IAF Submits Explanation to Delhi HC

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The IAF's explanation follows a directive dated March 14, 2023, from a division bench of Justice Suresh Kumar Kait and Justice Neena Bansal Krishna, seeking a response from the Union of India, including the Ministry of Defence and the Chief of Air Staff, regarding Ex-Wing Commander Abhinav Sharma's plea contesting his termination order

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has submitted its explanation to the Delhi High Court concerning the inadvertent launch of a BrahMos supersonic cruise missile into Pakistan in March 2022.

In its response, the IAF revealed the causes behind the accidental firing stating that the missile's combat connectors "remained connected to the junction box," resulting in the inadvertent firing.

The explanation from IAF comes in response to an order dated March 14, 2023, by a division bench of Justice Suresh Kumar Kait and Justice Neena Bansal Krishna who had sought responses from the Union of India through the Ministry of Defence, Chief of Air Staff, and others on Ex-Wing Commander Abhinav Sharma's plea challenging his termination order.

The IAF informed the court that the accidental firing of a BrahMos missile resulted from a human error during technical maintenance. Further, the investigation carried out by IAF found that the missile's unintended launch occurred due to a critical failure to adhere to safety protocols, leading to the unintended activation of BrahMos.

Acknowledging the substantial financial repercussions of this event, the Court of Inquiry has estimated a loss of approximately Rs. 24.9 crore to the government exchequer, the High Court was apprised.

Characterising the incident as one impacting India-Pakistan relations, the IAF informed the court that a "conscious and considered decision" was made to invoke the "President's pleasure” clause to terminate the services of three officials. This move was prompted by the strain in relations between the two countries.

Notably, the IAF's Court of Inquiry, in March 2022, attributed the misfire to three members of the Combat Team: Group Captain Saurabh Gupta, Squadron Leader Pranjal Singh, and Wing Commander Abhinav Sharma. The court underscored the gravity of the incident and its adverse impact on the reputation of the personnel involved.

The court of inquiry framed charges of failing to perform external checks, ensuring the safe transit of convoy, and intervening to prevent the missile launch against Wing Commander Sharma.

However, Wing Commander Sharma initiated legal action by petitioning the Delhi High Court, holding his superiors, Air Commodore JT Kurien, and a Squadron Leader accountable. Sharma argues that they neglected safety measures that could have prevented the inadvertent firing.

Sharma had challenged the termination order issued against him on August 23, 2022, under Section 18 of the Air Force Act, 1950. He had been posted as an Engineering Officer when the incident occurred during a simulation exercise performed by the Squadron. According to Sharma, he had only received professional and practical training for maintenance duties and had never been trained for operational conduct, given his role as an Engineering Officer.

Sharma, in his plea, also contended that he had acted in complete obedience to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and lacked experience in conducting operations or managing operational emergencies. He argued that the decision to terminate him under Section 18 of the Air Force Act was a deliberate bypass of the disciplinary process and the necessity for a trial by a Court Martial.

During the earlier proceedings, ASG Chetan Sharma, representing the Union of India, raised a preliminary objection, asserting that the petitioner's dismissal under Section 18 of the Air Force Act could not be contested without evidence of malfeasance being provided. Sharma emphasised the gravity of the incident, citing its international repercussions, which had led to embarrassment for India and the possibility of diplomatic fallout with Pakistan.

The IAF, in its recent submission, refutes Sharma's claims, asserting that he was present during the entire maintenance process within the Mobile Autonomous Launcher and was fully aware of all actions undertaken by his Operations Officer.


Cause Title: Wing Commander Abhinav Sharma v. Union of India & Ors. [W.P.(C) 3123/2023]