India’s Missile Mistake and Global Bias
India’s Missile Mistake and Global Bias. An accidental missile-firing represents the height of unimaginable strategic irresponsibility on the part of Indian nuclear command and control infrastructure and procedures. By any standards, it cannot be graded as a routine technical malfunctioning during claimed maintenance activity. It is beyond imagination that a missile that could carry all kinds of warheads, including nuclear, could go stray having no control or self-destruction mode.
Reportedly, the unknown flying object was the Indian strategic cruise missile BrahMos, having a range of 290 km and graded as the fastest cruise missile in the world with the capability of cruising at speeds of Mach 2.8. If the Indians could not manage such a sophisticated and technologically advanced missile then one could wonder what could be the state of affairs with other Indian indigenously made ballistic and cruise missiles.
The Indian Ministry of Defence after a lapse of considerable time regretted the accident; however, did not officially disclose the identity of the missile for obvious strategic, economic, and diplomatic backlash at the international and domestic levels. The Indian deliberate effort to keep the incident low profile probably meant four main purposes. One, India wanted to avoid demoralization of its strategic weapons’ development organizations, mainly the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Indian Ordnance Factories Board, BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited, and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), which are actively involved in the production of missiles in India. India’s Missile Mistake and Global Bias
Secondly, India may have feared that the planned bulk production of BrahMos missiles could be severely affected for the purpose of exporting it to other countries. It may be noted that in January 2022, the Philippines’ Defence Ministry signed an export contract of undisclosed numbers of BrahMos missiles worth $374 Million with BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited. If it was stated that BrahMos was the missile involved in the incident, the deal could have been shelved besides discouraging other ASEAN countries, like Vietnam and Indonesia who are also eyeing similar defense deals with India.
Third, the Indian strategic community does not want to burden itself with increased criticism of its strategic command and control both at the domestic and international levels.
Last but not the least; the accident of the BrahMos missile can question the credibility of Indian research efforts to develop BrahMos-II, having speeds of Mach 7-8 and an enhanced range up to 1,000 km with an aim to boost striking capability in a shorter time frame without being detected using cruise technology. It is likely that the accident involved the advanced version of BrahMos, which is currently in the research and development phase.
Whatever the reason, the Indian effort of tagging it as an inadvertent accident does not appear commensurate to the international requirement to exercise extra responsibility, which is expected of a state having nuclear weapons in its war-fighting inventory. The most alarming element of the so-called accident is that the BrahMos missile is a strategic weapon capable of being fitted with nuclear warheads besides conventional ones. The accident clearly demonstrates the sheer irresponsible attitude of Indian strategic corps elements, non-serious approach to handle sensitive inventory, poor technological credibility of Indian scientists and infrastructure, lack of the capability to produce missile systems which are main carriers of its nuclear warheads, safety and security parameters of the strategic assets, poor training standards of the maintenance and operational crew, and above all flawed command and control of strategic weapons. India’s Missile Mistake and Global Bias
The global strategic community, especially members of export control cartels like Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Australia Group (AG) and Wassenaar Arrangement (WG) will have to reconsider their politically motivated decisions for according membership to India, because of which it has an assured access to the advanced sensitive technologies. India having access to advanced weapon technologies is detrimental to the balance of power and strategic stability in South Asia. The proclaimed missile accident speaks volumes of its incapability to handle advanced technologies. Granting membership of export control cartels to India vis-à-vis Pakistan is totally an unjust and biased. India, which is being strengthened as a counterweight to rising China by the US-led Western community, has vested interests especially when it is being governed by globally known Hindu extremists. Expansionist designs of India are well known and status quo is not in their diplomatic and military doctrines.
For instance, India, when given membership of the advanced missile technology in 2016, took only a couple of years to develop and test a ground launched anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon. Space weapons are the least desired weapons, which do not only threaten peaceful uses of outer space but also disturb deterrence values in tangible terms. The global peace loving community paid the price for giving politically motivated access of advanced missile technology to India which resulted in India becoming the fourth nation in world possessing space weapons besides the US, Russia and China. Reportedly, Indian scientists diverted or in other words proliferated space technology acquired for stated peaceful purposes towards military purpose ASAT weapons development. The same is now being repeated by the Indians to produce state-of-the-art advanced missiles out of the technological access provided under MTCR membership cover.
Albeit the accident did not result in any life or property loss due to the fact that the missile fell in open fields, it could have resulted in unimaginable consequences such as an aviation disaster if the uncontrolled missile had hit some airliner, or loss of lives and property if it had hit some city. Lastly what if it had been fitted with a conventional warhead, if not nuclear. The consequences could have been spine-chilling.
The world has acknowledged Pakistan’s strategic community and armed forces for keeping their cool in responding to the incident. Indians, however, seemed to be totally ignorant of the flight path and kept quiet till DG ISPR came on screen to appraise the nation about the incident before undesirable speculations were made on social media. Like always ISPR played a constructive role and did not issue any provocative statements.
Similarly, Pakistan’s diplomatic corps and media demonstrated responsibility and did not tag it as aggression by our eastern neighbor for which the media on another side of the border is known. Pakistan overall demonstrated restraint and lodged a diplomatic protest with India’s charge d’affaires in Islamabad over an unprovoked violation of its airspace.
Despite, Pakistan’s restraint and offer to hold a joint inquiry, India’s response was lukewarm and rather dismissive. Surprisingly, there has been no condemnation of the incident or concerns raised at the international level. The question arises, what if Pakistan had made such a blunder? I have no doubt that immediately Pakistan’s nuclear credibility would have been questioned and the incident would have made headlines. It’s a world of realpolitik and such biases are to be expected. Adding to the injury, the US spokesperson simply said that there is no reason for not believing the Indian stance.
In the end, it is suggested that the world community give a serious eye to probabilities of whether it was an advertent or inadvertent act, especially when a rogue and the extremist establishment is governing India. We wish that it was an inadvertent accident and not with a purpose to assess Pakistan’s capability to locate and track the supersonic missiles, judge Pakistan’s strategic response thresholds, and last but not the least, to dilute the security agencies’ concentrated efforts who are committed to eliminating awakened frustrated sleeping cells of their sponsored terrorist elements. Whatever the aims, in case if it was an advertent act, Indian military and political leadership must not forget the surprise by resilient Pakistani armed forces which they had to face in ‘Operation Swift Retort’ back in February 2019. Notwithstanding Pakistan’s responsible and restrained approach, India must note that Pakistan has a threshold to absorb such misadventures and that they must not be tested for the sake of peace in the region.
(The author is a Karachi based expert on security and strategic issues and the Pro Vice Chancellor at DHA Suffa University)