Deliberate or Accidental: India’s Missile Launch Fiasco

Crimson Tide (1995), the Hollywood movie; exposed the lack of political authorization in nuclear weapon states; it portrayed the loophole in command-and-control structure despite having the most advanced technology and SSBN. The mutiny that disturbed the chain of command, at that time, the earth’s fate tested in the hands of the ship executive officer and SSBN Captain Ramsey. The purpose of giving reference to this moment is to portray the loophole in the nuclear world. Both the USA and erstwhile USSR, despite having an astounding command and control system, were near to triggering tactical and strategic nuclear weapons inadvertently during the Cold War.  This gave an edge to those authors who are in favor of the pessimistic approach of nuclear weapons. According to them, the spread of nuclear weapons in the world may trigger a nuclear war.


The sole purpose of discussing the example is to compare it with the recent incident involving Brahmos – a tactical supersonic cruise missile which fell into Pakistan territory near to Mian Channu nearly about 124 km far away from the Indian border. On March, 7th 2022, DG ISPR mentioned during the press brief that Pakistan Air Force traced the flying object moving at high speed towards Pakistan territory, and within a few seconds it entered into Pakistan’s airspace and flew about two to three minutes inside the airspace and fell in the village of Mian Channu. The missile was unarmed, which didn’t cause any injury but it destroyed the public property.


The Brahmos is the latest and powerful hypersonic cruise missile which can carry both nuclear and conventional payloads having the speed of approximately 2.8 Mach (3547.57 Km/h) i.e. three times faster than the speed of sound. It is also a fact that once the missile is launched in air, there is no way to abort it because the missile doesn’t have a “self-destructive system.” It took almost 48 hours from the Indian ministry of defense to confirm whether Brahmos landed on Pakistan’s territory or not. Moeed Yusuf, Former National Security Advisor of Pakistan, lambasted India on micro blogging website twitter that “it took almost 2 days for India to accept that missile was launched due to technical malfunction and mishandling”.


It raises the important question of whether it was an accidental or a deliberate attempt made by India.


If it was fired inadvertently, then there is a big question mark on the Indian nuclear chain of command as it is nuclear capable. This is because it is the head of the National Security Committee who has the launching codes.  Pragmatically, the one who was inquired and stood responsible for this accidental launching is the Group Captain and his team. The question would arise on the Indian chain of command, how the people in the chain of command are able to get access with codes which lacked political authorization and can be called as unauthorized launching.


The second argument is that it might be launched deliberately to check Pakistan’s response. This is because the hypersonic missile is the fastest cruise missile in the world and cannot be traced or destroyed. There is no defense system and self-destruction system in this missile. The question is then on the intentions of Indian political leaders, what they are up to. Realistically, the military hotline, established during the 1999 Lahore agreement was formalized and reinforced in 2005, aims to set norms and regulations to avoid misperception and accidental triggering. It states that, both Pakistan and India have to inform each other before testing any type of nuclear weapon. Subsequently, it was in case of ballistic missiles, not for cruise missiles.


To avoid such incidents and misperception between two states in the near future; both states would have to carry out plans, rules and regulations. Despite the fact that these states have signed the Lahore agreement, the problem with it is, the early warnings are just for ballistic missiles not for cruise missiles. Significantly, if the agreement between both states is carried on then still there would be an ambiguity. This is because cruise missiles flew at very low altitude; it doesn’t have a projectile motion just like ballistic missiles. Moreover, the early notifications are given in the case before testing, but not in case of accidental firing.


So the conclusion is that it is necessary for both states to act like a responsible nuclear state, especially India. This is because the Hindutva ideology has increased the risk of escalation. Moreover, the Indian nuclear doctrine has been following the so-called “no first use policy”. It has raised a serious question on the credibility of its own nuclear doctrine. While Pakistan is already following First Use Policy, any misperception can lead towards a serious engagement.


To avoid such incidents in near future, India has to work on its command-and-control structure. Also, an appraisal of political authorization and chain of command is necessary. So as to help restore confidence in India, that it can manage its strategic nuclear weapons during peacetime, and predominantly, during a military crisis.


Moreover, transparency in the international community is also essential where the international institutions have to play their part, otherwise not only the South Asian region will be affected but it will have an impact globally, due to India’s hegemonic ambitions. What we expect from these institutions is to set a regulation on using such deadly weapons, non-proliferation of such deadly weapons otherwise the world has to face the consequences.


Published in Global Affairs June 2022 Edition

Share this:
Saad Riaz

Written by Saad Riaz

Saad Riaz studying Strategic Studies at National Defense University, Islamabad. He is an Internee at Global Affairs. His areas of interest include Security Culture and Traditional and Nontraditional Security.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Analyzing Trends Post 9/11: A Constructivist Perspective

Climate Change in Pakistan – Is It Actually Inevitable?