The Indian Air Force announced on Tuesday that it had dismissed three of its officers after they accidentally fired a cruise missile into neighboring Pakistan in March, briefly creating an international incident and leading to a deterioration in relations between the two regional powers.
The air force’s statement indicated that the dismissals had been approved by a formal board of inquiry into the incident, which had found that the “deviation from the Standard Operating Procedures by three officers [had] led to the accidental firing of the missile.” The inquiry found that the men had been “primarily…responsible” for the incident, and the air force statement claimed that “their services [had] been terminated by the Central Gov[ernment] with immediate effect.”
On March 9, the three officers had accidentally launched a BrahMos supersonic missile at Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province amid unclear circumstances. The missile landed roughly eighty miles inside Pakistan’s territory, destroying a wall. Although no Pakistanis were killed or injured in the incident, the country’s officials swiftly condemned the launch as a “flagrant violation” of Pakistan’s sovereignty and airspace, summoned India’s Charge d’Affaires in Islamabad, and called for a “thorough and transparent investigation.” India acknowledged the launch two days later, claiming that it had been caused by a “technical malfunction” and promising to thoroughly investigate the “deeply regrettable” incident. Indian defense minister Rajnath Singh vowed on March 15 that the country’s Standard Operating Procedures would be reviewed in order to prevent a similar launch in the future.
The names and ranks of the three officers held responsible for the incident have not been released, although outside sources reported that at least one of them had been a group captain prior to their dismissal.
India and Pakistan have fought four wars and dozens of minor skirmishes since their independence from Britain in 1947—including one in 1999 when both sides possessed nuclear weapons, leading to significant concerns regarding the escalation of the conflict in the international community. Although the two countries have largely remained at peace since 1999, they have engaged in periodic clashes, including Indian airstrikes against Islamist militant groups within Pakistan and the shootdown of an Indian fighter plane within Pakistan in 2019. The pilot, Group Capt. Abhinandan Varthaman, was captured by Pakistani forces on the ground and later released without incident.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.