The Indian Air Force may press charges against those who found guilty of lapses that led to the downing of the Mi-17 helicopter on February 27 by friendly fire which killed seven people. The IAF inquiry into the accidental shoot down of its own chopper will be over in 20 days.
The summary of evidence will be presented and the officers will be charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder as specified by military law under the Air Force Act 1950.
On February 27, six IAF personnel and a civilian were killed when the helicopter disintegrated and crashed in Budgam on the day that Indian and Pakistani jets squared off along the Line of Control following the IAF airstrike on Balakot, Pakistan. It was at this same time that air defence radars at Srinagar airport picked up a low flying aircraft on their screens. Since the helicopter was downed by a surface-to-air missile of the IAF, officials mistook the aircraft to be hostile.
According to NDTV reports, IAF sources indicated that the entire shoot-down sequence, from the moment the missile was launched to the moment of impact, lasted approximately 12 seconds. The Mi-17 helicopter had no means of knowing it was under attack.
The senior officer manning the post of Terminal Weapons Director at the time was likely the Chief Operations Officer of the Air Base, and may have given the final order to fire at the helicopter, says the report. The helicopter was designated a slow-flying target and could not be identified through a critical system called the Identification, Friend or Foe (IFF) transponder.
The IFF system is specifically designed to ensure that friendly-fire incidents are avoided during the heat of battle. It is unclear if the IAF helicopter’s IFF was switched off or was not functioning at the time when it was shot down.