Lost in the thunder of the air-strike at Balakot, and the upsurge of nationalism during the election campaign was the generally disgraceful “friendly-fire” that brought down an IAF Mi-17 helicopter in Budgam (cental Kashmir) killing all six air force men on board.
True that a Court of Inquiry is under process, and a least one senior officer has been shifted out, but once the electoral rhetoric subsides and sanity is restored to military thinking, a really serious investigation would be in order, and deterrent/remedial action taken.
Six lives are precious, the patriotism of the family members must not be allowed to cloud over a really grave lapse. Admittedly friendly fire is not terribly uncommon, yet that would be no valid reason to underplay the gravity of the tragedy at Budgam.
Could it be that the IAF personnel in Srinagar were both jumpy and trigger-happy since the Pakistan air force was mounting a retaliatory strike at the time that an anti-aircraft missile was unleashed against the virtually defenceless Mi-17.
Thoughts drift back to the immediate post-Kargil days when IAF fighters shot down an Atlantique maritime reconnaissance aircraft of the Pakistan Navy that allegedly violated Indian air space over Gujarat. The buzz then that having missed out in the action in Kargil, IAF personnel in Gujarat were keen to share a little of the limelight.
Of course in the fog of war the matter was glossed over. Budgam cannot be allowed to go the same way, for other negatives are doing the rounds. It was criminal for the Mi-17 crew not to have activated its “friend or foe” identification apparatus during a time when a Pakistani raid was continuing. And the controllers neglected to divert the chopper away to a safe zone.
These are issues that must be professionally investigated, for repetition must be restricted. Effective media-management may ensure public opinion does not get perturbed ~ yet a military organisation must look beyond public perception. At the present euphoric moment when military success has paved the way to the EVM, it might seem churlish to talk about the blunder at Budgam, but it would be doing IAF personnel great disservice if the friendly fire does not arouse valid concerns.
The IAF is within striking distance of a change of guard at its top levels, it must realise that Balakot has been milked to the ultimate extent ~ by the politicians if not the “brass” ~ and take a hard look within. It is all very well to make a hero of a MiG-21 Bison pilot who was shot down even if he reportedly did take out an F-16, yet it will be realistic to check the career profile of the first MiG 27 pilot who crashed at Kargil. To be shot down by “friendly fire” is a matter of shame. There can be no overlooking that truism.