‘Even if authorised, missile firing makes no sense’

This cannot be credibly explained away by referring to a “technical glitch”.’

[The BrahMos in flight]

India on Friday said a missile that landed in Pakistan on March 9 was fired ‘accidentally’ due to a technical malfunction. The defence ministry ordered a court of inquiry into the incident a day after Pakistan said a high-speed projectile launched from India entered its airspace and fell near Mian Channu in Khanewal district.

Interview of Bharat Karnad, emeritus professor of national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi think-tank, by Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal, Rediff.com 


While the defence ministry has explained that the missile fired into Pakistan was due to a ‘technical malfunction’, former naval chief Admiral Arun Prakash has tweeted that these missiles can never be launched accidentally but only when authorised.What does that indicate?

The Admiral is right. This seems like an unauthorised firing. Further, even if authorised, the firing makes no sense, because there was no active warhead. So, what was the aim?

This missile was accidentally fired on March 9, one day before the counting of votes of the assembly elections. Could there be a co-relation between these two events?

No. The co-relation is only in the minds of the conspiracy inclined, and there is no dearth of those in the country.

The missile mishap occurred on March 9, but the government came up with a clarification on March 11. Why this delay?

Well, the government was first waiting for a formal Pakistani protest. And it took another day to craft a diplomatic apology.

What does this say about their safety mechanisms and the technical prowess in the way these dangerous weapons are being maintained in India?

That’s precisely the worry attending on this misfiring.

Indeed, the Pakistani government was quick to capitalise on this incident of the Brahmos missile going astray.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s National Secrity Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf publicly expressed concern and asked the international community to note the fairly casual manner in which missiles are operated.by the Indian armed forces.

He went on, understandably, to extend that concern to India’s handling of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

Such criticism is bound to have an effect on international opinion and hurt India’s self-confessed status as a ‘responsible State’.

The defence ministry seems to have landed with egg on its face.

A whole barnyard full of eggs, in fact. This is quite shocking and simply cannot be credibly explained away by referring to a ‘technical glitch’.

The triggering mechanism is a hardy piece of work including a firing sequence and a final authorisation.

How this process was obviated is a mystery.

Pakistan’s foreign office summoned India’s charge d’affaires in Islamabad to lodge a warning that this unprovoked violation of its airspace could have endangered passenger flights and civilian lives.

Well, yeah, anything could have happened, including the missile, even with a dummy warhead, kinetically taking out a passenger aircraft.

In your view, could this have been a BrahMos cruise missile possessing nuclear capability?

The Brahmos missile has interchangeable warheads and can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons.

But most forward-deployed Indian cruise missiles are conventionally armed.

If it was a nuclear missile — albeit unarmed — is there a possibility in the future that the command and control system could fail again in the future which could have dangerous consequences for both nations?

Unless the government clarifies the nature of the ‘technical glitch’ everything is in the realm of speculation. That could include a faulty command and control system.

According to reports, Pakistani officials claim it was fired from Sirsa. How far is that assessment correct?

No reason to doubt the Pakistani claim because the Pakistani air defence complex at Sargodha, District Miani, is very advanced and capable of detecting cruise and ballistic missile firings and minutely tracking their trajectory.


Published in Rediff.com, March 13, at https://www.rediff.com/news/interview/dr-bharat-karnad-even-if-authorised-missile-firing-makes-no-sense/20220313.htm

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indo-Pacific, Intelligence, Internal Security, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to ‘Even if authorised, missile firing makes no sense’

  1. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Thanks Dear Dr Karnad for expressing your expert views in this interview in a hard-hitting manner. I believe the Chinese and (the Russians) will also be interested in this issue as it may be of greater significance to them.I also believe that without having a quick, convincing and transparent enquiry on the valid questions raised by Pakistan , our prospects of exporting Brahmos to the ASEAN countries would receive a huge and irrecoverable jolt. What are your thoughts on this particular aspect of this rogue Brahmos issue?

  2. Ayush says:

    Lol I can’t believe you’re are actually believing the blusterous nonsense that’s thrown about by ispr. https://theprint.in/defence/missile-accidentally-fired-during-inspection-at-secret-iaf-base-pakistan-didnt-track/870814/
    This article says it all.The only thing that it misses is the fact the fact that this had been a very deliberate launch.IAF deserves a real pat in the back for its boldness.This test has confirmed IAF suspicions that that the top notch Chinese SAMs HQ-9/HQ-16 are just overhyped third rate garbage.Back when china had supplied these SAMs to pak,many Chinese mil websites were filled with reports of claiming that it can easily intercept “incapable” “so-called” Brahmos and Rafael with single shot kill probability.This is of course the usual bombastic,disdainful none sense regarding india which you would hear from pla mouthpieces.IAF has spectacularly called their bluff,that too in their own language and rubbed it in their face.
    Also , dr Karnad and other Russophiles in this space should read this clearly. https://www.ft.com/content/30850470-8c8c-4b53-aa39-01497064a7b7?shareType=nongift.
    Junior sidekick putin is begging master Xi for a bailout after his military is getting absolutely humiliated at the hands of the Ukrainian David.my biggest concern is china demanding the source codes of our s-400 from Russia in return of this “assistance” .we must discard this Russian piece of trash now!We need to openly join western led sanctions effort against Putin.He is of no use to us anymore. we need to pick a side and it has to be the west,no matter how unreliable they may be.

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      @Ayush- The aforementioned explanation by you is perfectly spot on.

    • Deepak says:

      @Ayush, India is still major importer of Russian military equipment from small arms to leasing nuclear submarine. It cannot overnight abandon Russia and join Western led sanctions group even if it wishes at this movement.
      Chinese reverse engineered products are of low quality.India should worry about quantity of Chinese military equipment not the quality which is inferior .

    • Apna says:

      Quote “[Putin] is of no use to us anymore. we need to pick a side and it has to be the west,no matter how unreliable they may be.” So says an ungrateful and treacherous Indian leader. That is why Russia must not give arms to Indians who in the 60s and 70s were given the most advanced Soviet arms with payment in rupees.

  3. Deepak says:

    Technical glitch argument is a non sense. Tomorrow Pakistan may try similar with small nuclear warhead and tell same technical glitch argument.Proper investigation should be done and all responsible should be punished.

  4. Amit says:

    Unless you have inside information on what happened, your theory is very hard to believe on this ‘accidental’ firing. After reading and watching other media reports, it also seems unlikely. But whatever the truth, the psyop benefits are immense (like the others who have pointed this out here). It doesn’t make any sense to diss the Indian establishment for this, whatever the truth. If indeed there was an accidental firing, whoever responsible can be dealt with appropriately behind the scenes. But no need to play up the incompetent angle here. The Indian military HAS gained valuable information about anti Brahmos missile defence, and HAS sent a powerful message. This is also true, accidental firing or not.

    • Amit@ — The Indian military has a fairly good fix on Pakistan’s anti-missile defence, and didn’t need to test it with this Brahmos firing. If it was not an accident then it was a foolish venture considering the loss of Brahmos technology is irreversible, and we’ll pay a price for it.

      • Amit says:

        True, there is that risk. But other media analyses of the debris photos indicate that nothing of value survived the crash impact. However, it’s also possible that the photo was taken after some debris was already cleared. So yes, there is that risk. Accept your point. But I still think it should be a behind the scenes assessment of what happened. Let the Pakis cry hoarse. India should keep mum, while taking the necessary actions behind the scenes.

        But frankly, all these dynamics could change based on what happens to Russia and Ukraine. Tectonic shifts are coming.

      • Deepak says:

        Sir, If they wanted to do real time testing of BrahMos missile they should have planed for surgical strike on major military infrastructure of Pakistan using BrahMos missile when major provocation comes from Pakistan but not doing these foolish thing.

      • Ayush says:

        We didn’t know about HQ-9 which china donated to pak last year.Also,china has deployed a myriad of HQ-9s at LAC.That is why we it was necessary to test their competence.Also,there is no loss of tech as that Brahmos was completely annihilated by the impact(check the photos and videos).IAF is far smarter than we think.HQ-9s and Chinese AWACS can be easily by Rafaels Spectra EWS and very powerful Israeli jamming pod which is part of ISE package.
        As per cnn, Putin is begging master Xi for jamming pods and CH-5 drones which PLA is using at LAC.They are obviously nearly not as good as Heron mkii that we are using but good enough by Chinese-Russian standards.China doesn’t give even the skeleton of its dead dog for free.Xi will certainly demand the source codes of our s-400 in return and junior sidekick putin will gladly oblige.

      • Gaurav Tyagi says:

        @Professor Karnad- You are worried unnecessarily.

        Brahmos missile is not an indigenous product. It is a joint-venture between the Russian Federation’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya and DRDO.

        Russia has asked for Chinese assistance in its on going military expedition in Ukraine.

        If China wants the technological details of Brahmos, Russia will gladly provide it in lieu of Chinese support. The Chinese don’t need to bang their brains trying to retrieve something from a burnt out, destroyed skeleton of a missile.

  5. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    @Amit and @Ayush, Even if this was done to teach Pakistan a lesson, what was the purpose to do it given we have a ceasefire going on with Pakistan ? Even when we accept that Pakistani air defense system came second best here , this is going to be beneficial for Pakistan(and China) in the long run by inducting greater accurate air defense technology as they now have the opportunity to plug the loop holes with the added advantage of having a Brahmos in their hands. So in the long run, did we do this psy-op to risk our many decades old hard earned reputation of being a responsible nuclear state just to strengthen Pakistani (and Chinese) air defense capabilities ?

  6. Amit says:


    This is how India can change the game on Russian sanctions. If India can do this, China will surely do this. It’s high time India toes it’s own line. India got nothing for toeing the US line on Iranian oil sanctions. This time, India is doing the right thing.

  7. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Dr Karnad was right about the importance of a quick and unbiased enquiry into this rogue Brahmos incident. Interesting to see that both the Chinese and the Pakistanis now want a joint Indo-Pak mechanism to investigate this current incident as well as to prevent future incidents such as this.

  8. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Even MK Bhadrakumar seems to be in favor of your idea of MOD-QUAD i. e. India plus Japan and Taiwan minus USA. What do you think about this article ?

    • Ayush says:

      Lol, this guy [Bhadrakumar] is a well known Chinese MSS asset.He and prawin sawhney type guys are well known for peddling Chinese interests.He supposedly says that the Russia is still a friend,despite it being clearly reduced to a Chinese stooge of the same league as Pak-NK.prawin sawhney type guys deliberately downplay capabilities that we already have and overhype those of pla-Pak.These people outrageously advocate for an outright surrender before Xi.Even modi turned down Purim’s outrageous offer of mediation with Xi, knowing full well that he is a junior lapdog.
      India must airlift a few dozen Harop drones along with command&controls(to destroy overhyped s-400)and our reserve stocks of Israeli ELM-8222 jamming pods(to jam incompetent Russian bvraam and fighter jet comms).This should completely alter their course the war and force Putin to accept a humiliating ceasefire.Dismembering and smashing the diabolical china-Russia alliance is in our interest.

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