The Mi-17 V5 helicopter of the Indian Air Force that crashed in Srinagar on February 27, a day after air strikes on terror training camps in Balakot in Pakistan, was shot down by friendly fire, Chief of Air Staff, Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria said today.
“It was a big mistake, “ Air Chief Bhadauria said and added, “two officers will be proceeded against” for violating standard operating procedure leading to friendly fire bringing down the helicopter.
A Russian made Mi-17 helicopter of the IAF crashed even as Indian and Pakistani fighters were engaging each other over Nowshera, in Jammu and Kashmir on 27 February. All six airmen, on board the helicopter, were killed.
The Air Chief also said that IAF is also considering designating all personnel killed in air-crash as “battle casualties”.
The Court of Inquiry (CoI) is just complete and it shows the IAF shot down the helicopter by mistake, the Air Chief said.
Days after the crash, then Chief of Air Staff BS Dhanoa had told the IAF that the guilty officers would not be protected.
An inquiry into the accident had indicated several lapses leading to the tragedy.
For instance, the inquiry had faulted the air traffic control for calling back the helicopter as air engagement between Indian and Pakistani fighters increased.
Ideally the helicopter should have been sent away to safer zone instead of it being called back to the base.
All bases have designated airspace for friendly aircraft in case of an air defence alert.
“Air defence platforms like missile systems, air defence guns etc are kept free, they are free to engage any aircraft which doesn’t identify itself as a “friendly” either through the IFF or by remaining confined to the airspace designated for friendly aircraft to hold during an alert,” a senior defence ministry official had told HT.
Importantly, the Identification of Friend or Foe (IFF) – a transponder based identification system that informs the air defence radars whether incoming aircraft is friendly – was switched-off. This was a violation of the laid-down orders and protocol.
The IAF headquarters had ordered all aircraft should keep their IFF systems on at all times after a 2018 near-air-miss incident in Jammu and Kashmir between a C-130 J – a US-made transport aircraft and Russian made Su-30 fighter aircraft.
The Srinagar Air Base had issued contradictory orders. “Had the IFF system been on, air defence radars would have at least identified Helicopter as a friendly aircraft,” the second senior defence ministry official said.