[A Brahmos triggered]
[This augmented post incorporates new info relating to the incident presented in in Sunday newspapers, without changing its original thrust and tenor.]
The supersonic Brahmos cruise missile reportedly misfired by an army’ s missile battery from Sirsa landed fairly deep — 124 km — inside Pakistani territory, near Mian Channu, Khanewal District. The Pakistani air defence complex at Sargodha, Miani District, tracked it precisely with the Pakistan army’s Inter-Services Public Relations chief, Major General Babar Iftikhar, helpfully informing the press that the missile, which had been fired March 9 at 1843 hours had diverted of its own volition midflight and crashlanded in northeastern Punjab seven minutes later, at 1850 hours. Pakistan did not react other than by wagging a finger at India.
Doubtless GHQ, Rawalpindi, could not be more gleeful at this technological windfall. It has been just handed a dummy warhead-carrying whole Brahmos missile. The fallen missile — the star in the Indian army’s weapons inventory, unless fully destroyed by impact and even if it is so wrecked, some of its more interesting parts would be recoverable, is a boon to the Pakistan and Chinese militaries. These will be carefully disassembled, technically scrutinised, and a whole team urgently constituted at the Aeronautical Complex at Kamra, to likely get down to the business of studying the missile threadbare with a view ultimately to reverse engineering it. Of special significance in the Brahmos system is its super secretive ramjet engine of Russian make and its guidance system of Indian design and manufacture.
After deciphering all it can about the Brahmos system, the Pakistan army will pass on the same to the Chinese PLA, which has the CX-1 — a copy of the Russian supersonic Yakhont (NATO-designation — “Sunburn”) cruise missile equipping its forces. PLA will be only too glad to get its hands on this more sophisticated variety of cruise missile and, perhaps, tease more design and performance secrets from the wreckage than the Pakistani engineers at Kamra can.
Pakistan has been very lucky in terms of accidentally obtaining such advanced technologies, and China, by default, benefitting from access to them. It may be recalled that an unexploded subsonic Tomahawk land attack cruise missile fired from a US submarine in the Arabian Sea and on its way to a target in Afghanistan dropped down instead southwest of Quetta in August 1998. It was quickly retrieved by the Pakistan army and, just as quickly, handed over to the Chinese to deconstruct and learn things to incorporate into their own long range CJ-10 cruise missile. What they must have prized in the Tomahawk were three things — the terrain following Digital Scene Matching Area Correlator (DSMAC) guidance unit, the jam-resistant GPS, and the compact WDU-36 warhead. Certain aspects of the jet engine would have elicited interest too.
The May 2011 nightime raid to capture and kill Osama bin Laden in his house nestled just outside the Pakistan Army Academy at Kirkul left behind another technology treasurehouse — the Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter with special stealth feaures carrying the US Special Forces. It crash landed in the bin Laden compound and had to be left behind by the Special Forces unit, though why the departing Americans could not have just lobbed a few grenades and decimated the crippled helicopter is not clear. May be the excitement got to them! In any case, the Pakistan army and the Chinese military were the beneficiaries, getting their hands on the stealth innovations of that helicopter. Such as its rivetless skin, the radar wave bouncing covering for the tail rotor gearbox, the tail-fin unit painted with “pearlescent” material, the tail-boom with retractable landing gear, a tail-rotor design with five or six blades for slower rotation and less noise and, particularly, the main counter-rotors system of short length and bevelled edges.
Now India has added to Pakistan and China’s luck by virtually handing over a Brahmos cruise missile to them! The adversary’s luck is India’s grave misfortune. Because the Pakistan army and the PLA will now be able to discern how exactly the missile works, especially in its guidance and targeting aspects and, more important, what counter-measures can defeat it in flight and at the terminal stage of its flight.
At a minimum, this incident suggests criminal laxity by the military personnel manning the concerned Brahmos missile battery. And at a maximum, that some of the Indian missileers were suborned by the Pakistanis. The Pakistani communications link and handlers stationed on the Indian side need to be hunted down. Because, surely, the Brahmos missile firing sequence and mechanism is not so simple as to have some person or persons accidentally trip a switch, and have a uh-ho! moment. It requires a deliberate set of steps quite deliberately taken by saboteurs in uniform. It is in Sargodha Central’s interest to claim that it saw the missile suddenly veer off mid-flight in a different direction than the one intended in order to shield the compromised/paid off Indians complicit in the act of getting a Brahmos to Pakistan-China. The first thing for the Court of Inquiry (CoI) that’s been set up to do is to disregard, with extreme prejudice, the Pakistan army’s account of it.
Actually, this episode hints at something lot more troubling — the “dheela-dhala” culture, the laxness that is a characteristic of the civilian parts of government, now seeping into the Indian military’s operational space that permits potentially easy penetration by enemy’s intelligence agencies. This trend if not arrested with ferocity could consume the armed services, and make nonsense of national security. It is also a matter for the counter-intelligence units in the Research & Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau to get between their teeth.
If, on the other hand, a genuine technical quirk in the missile or in its triggering mechanism is detected, or a problematic part of the Brahmos firing drill is identified — these will be easier to correct, of course. Still, it is something of a revelation that the series of electronic interlocks built into the triggering system of the missile can be bypassed. In which case, what’s the point in having these locks if anyone can avoid/preempt them and initiate the firing sequence? This is a most significant weakness in the missile system. Would it be very wrong, in the event, to assume that the strategic nuclear warheaded Agni missiles are under a similar locking system with the final authority to fire being easily side-stepped by the unit in the field?
This is a situation perfectly setup — even an invitation — for some demented missile personnel to go rogue and start a nuclear affray. Little wonder the Pakistan National Security Adviser, Dr Moeed Yusuf has called attention to this incident claiming that India’s nuclear weapons are not in safe custody because the supposed custodians can independently trigger them. It will provide fuel for sections of the policy establishments in the West, which have always been apprehensive of nuclear weaponised Third World states, to claim that India has an unsafe nuclear arsenal and is a proto-rogue nuclear weapons state that enables its handlers of nuclear armaments to start a nuclear regional or even world war. To exacerbate the Indian government’s discomfiture, the Pakistan government has asked for a joint inquiry — which of course should not be acceded to. But it still leaves suspicions of an infirm command and control system very much in place.
Re-engineering the interlocks system in the missile triggering mechanism, one in which the option of manual over-ride at the local level is denied without an absolute final authorization, is an urgent necessity. These technical remedies will not, however, in any sense lessen the grievous damage done India’s cause with the most ballyhooed weapon in the Indian arsenal now cradled by Pakistan and China. India, alas, is not so bounteous that it can afford such lapses that gift military high-technology to its enemies.
Hope, however, that the usual path is not followed and things not hushed up. The air force officers and other ranks up and down the line and party in any way to this mishap will have to be held responsible. Those directly implicated will need to be drummed out of service and by way of exemplary, deterrent, punishment, put away for life in prison. In China, such “accident” would fetch some people the firing squad.