“Accidental” launching of missile into Pakistan’s air space

A “supersonic flying object”, believed to be a version of the Brahmos missile, flew into Pakistan’s air space at debatable altitude near air corridors of airliners, before falling near Mian Chunu (Khanewal, Multan ), a strategic location.

Pakistan expressed its ennui to the United Nations ‘secretary general and the German chancellor.

Pakistan’s foreign minister alleged that India had deployed missiles in the disputed Kashmir territory. He desired to ferret out the truth via a down-to-earth joint investigation.

Even before India’s external affairs’ minister explained the “accident to its QUAD ally, the United States of America, the latter endorsed India’s version of the mishap.

Hot-line disused and the bilateral agreements violated

Though India and Pakistan have a hotline  for inter communication, India did not bother to inform Pakistan soon after it came to know that its missile had gone astray The March 9,2022 missile episode violated the 1999 bilateral Lahore Agreement between India and Pakistan stipulating that the two nuclear armed neighbours, usually at daggers drawn,  would inform each other regarding the conduct of ballistic missile tests to “prevent accidents”.

Subsequently, this was reinforced and formalised in October 2005 in a pact under which both countries were required to ensure that their individual ballistic test launch site(s) were not within 40 kms of their respective territories. Above all, the anticipated impact area of all such under-development ballistic missiles was also not permitted within 75km of the International Boundary or the Line of Control in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region.

India’s prestigious magazine The Wire not only pointed out India’s defence ministry’s   “culpability in “accidentally firing” the missile, but also its cavalier attitude in reporting the incident after a lapse of 24 hours.

The magazine stated “But remarkably, New Delhi waited almost 24 hours before conceding its colossal error that had the grave potential of escalating into a conflagration of apocalyptic proportions over the ‘rogue missile’. That it did not hurt anyone can be attributed to providence and the collective karma of both countries. Thankfully, the inadvertently triggered missile was unarmed and ended up destroying just a wall in the small town of Mia Channu in Pakistan’s Khanewal province in Punjab, some 124km from the Indian border” (India Needs to Come Clean on ‘Accidental Firing of Missile’ to Avert Conflict with Pakistan, The Wire dated March 12, 2022)


India’s “disclosure” was too little too late. It is commonly believed that India deliberately fired the missile to test Pakistan’s “preparedness”. India is now reassured, albeit questionably, that Pakistan’s Chinese-origin HQ-9/P High-to-Medium Air Defence System is incapable of intercepting a “vagrant”, “rogue” or stray missile. Or, the system is still in pre-induction stage. Another possibility is that the system is effective against aircraft, but not the cruise missiles.  The HQ-9/P has an aerial target engagement range of 40km.

Indian “guestimate” is that, relative to Pakistan, it possessed a far better  multi-layered air-defence cover. The Indian system has a two-tier indigenously developed Ballistic Missile Defence system, as bulwark against long-range incoming missiles and the domestically designed Akash air defence and analogous overseas missile systems, for short-range interception. The BMD, which is at an advanced stage of development and installation, includes air-defence interceptor missile systems, capable of engaging targets at endo-atmospheric altitudes of 20-40km and exo-atmospehreic heights of over 85km, respectively.

Add to it India’s five S-400 Almaz-Antey S-400 Triunf self-propelled SAM systems, acquired in late 2018 for $5.5 billion. The IAF had received one S-400 in late 2021, which it had recently deployed at one of its bases in Punjab to monitor aerial activity on its western Pakistan border and its northern disputed Line of Actual Control with China.

Since India’s  MoD is mum about specification of the errant missile the speculation is that it was a supersonic 8.4m long, two-stage BrahMos cruise surface-to-surface missile developed jointly by India’s state-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia, and named after the Brahmaputra and Moskva rivers.

BrahMos’s first stage comprises a solid-fuel rocket for initial acceleration, whilst its second is an air-breathing liquid-fueled ramjet engine, which boosts it to a speed of M2.8-M3 to a strike range of 292 km, that had only recently been enhanced to 400km.

Wikipedia tells the name BrahMos is a portmanteau formed from the names of two rivers, the Brahmaputra of India and the Moskva of Russia. The BrahMos (designated PJ-10) is a Medium-range Ramjet Supersonic Cruise Missile that can be launched from a submarine, a surface warship, an aircraft or from land. It is notably one of the fastest supersonic cruise missiles in the world.  It is a the product of  a joint-venture between the Russian Federation’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), who together have formed BrahMos Aerospace. It is based on the Russian P-800 Oniks cruise missile and other similar sea-skimming Russian cruise missile technology..

It is the world’s fastest Anti-Ship Cruise Missile currently in operation. The Land-launched and Ship-launched versions are already in service. An Air-launched variant of BrahMos appeared in 2012 and entered service in 2019. A hypersonic version of the missile, BrahMos-II, is also presently under development with a speed of Mach 7–8 to boost aerial fast strike capability. It was expected to be ready for testing by 2024.

India wanted the BrahMos to be based on a mid range cruise missile like the P-700 Granit. Its propulsion is based on the Russian missile, and missile guidance has been developed by BrahMos Aerospace.

The missile is expected to reach a total order of US$13 billion. In 2016, as India became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), India and Russia are now planning to jointly develop a new generation of Brahmos missiles with 800 km range and an ability to hit protected targets with pinpoint accuracy. Plans are to eventually upgrade all missiles to a range of 1500 km.

The “naughty “missile is a peripatetic bird that can fly from autonomous mobile launchers mounted on all-terrain high mobility Tatra trucks. In the instant case it flew from the Sirsa Air Force Station that does not have a permanent BrahMos missile system. The IAF fired the cruise missile from Sirsa to the Mahajan Field Firing Range in Rajasthan some 226km distant.

The “freaky” missile lost control, due to malfunction in ignition, disabling the missile’s internal controls. The missile’s self-destruction system was substandard as it failed to destroy the “twirler’ missile.

Another wild guess is that it was not a Brahmas but a  Prithvi SSM variant fitted with inertial navigation and ground-based mid-course correction systems.

India’s missile deployment in Kashmir, a nuclear tinderbox

The world should take note of Pakistan’s foreign minister’s allegation about deployment of nuclear –capable missiles in disputed Kashmir. Kashmir remains a veritable nuclear tinderbox. It was this dispute that triggered the past wars in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999, besides a quasi-war or the military standoff in the years 2001-2002.

John Thomson, in his article ‘Kashmir the most dangerous place in the world’ has analysed whether it is a myth or reality to perceive Kashmir as the most dangerous place in the world (Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Bushra Asif and Cyrus Samii (eds), ‘Kashmir New Voices, New Approaches’).

He has given cogent arguments to prove that the Kashmir issue could once again spark another Indo-Pak military confrontation with concomitant risks of a nuclear war. Most western analysts, also, do not rule out the possibility of nuclear war because of the Kashmir dispute. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has, inter alia, pointed out that ‘avoiding nuclear war in South Asia will require political breakthroughs in India-Pakistan’.

Aware that Kashmir was a ticking bomb that could mushroom into another war with India, Pakistan’s “president” Musharraf made some out-of-box personal proposals to resolve the dispute. Contours of his solution are given in his memoirs ‘In the Line of Fire’ (pp.302-303).

His proposals are actually a regurgitation of India’s own foreign secretary Jagat S Mehta;s ideas.

Mehta  presented his ideas in his article, ‘Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s’ (Hindustan Times editor Verghese also gave similar proposals).

Mehta understood that plebiscite was the real solution. As such, his proposals were meant to serve as ‘requirements’ for the solution, not a solution. Some points of his quasi-solution, still relevant, are: (a) Conversion of the LoC into “a soft border permitting free movement and facilitating free exchanges…”.(b) Immediate demilitarisation of the LoC to a depth of five to 10 miles with agreed methods of verifying compliance. (c) Pending final settlement, there must be no continuing insistence by Pakistan “on internationalisation, and for the implementation of a parallel or statewide plebiscite to be imposed under the peacekeeping auspices of the United Nations”. (d) Final settlement of the dispute between India and Pakistan can be suspended (kept in a ‘cold freeze’) for an agreed period. (e) Conducting parallel democratic elections in both Pakistani and Indian sectors of Kashmir. (f) Restoration of an autonomous Kashmiriyat.

(g) Pacification of the valley until a political solution is reached. Instead of taking the proposal in its true spirit, India portrayed them as capitulation on demand for a plebiscite. However, Musharraf had to clarify that India should not misconstrue his flexibility.

Voracious readers may refer for detail to Robert G. Wirsing, India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute (1994, St Martin’s Press).

India set the  precedent” “might is right” in  regard to Junagadh and other Princely States and then Kashmir, followed by Russia in Ukraine, and now open to be followed by China in Taiwan.

Concluding remark

How would India have reacted if a “freaky” missile had violated india’s air space? India needs to satisfy Pakistan’s qualms first before taking its brothers-in arm [purchases] in international community aboard.

Amjed Jaaved
Amjed Jaaved
Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.