IAF findings that India shot down own helicopter put on hold until after elections (Updated with IAF rebuttal and my response) - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 26 April 2019

IAF findings that India shot down own helicopter put on hold until after elections (Updated with IAF rebuttal and my response)

The smoking remains of the chopper after it was shot down by an IAF missile near Budgam

By Ajai Shukla
Edited version in Business Standard, 27th April 19

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has been told to keep on hold the findings of a “court of inquiry” (CoI) that has conclusively determined that an IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter was shot down by an Indian missile battery that was guarding Srinagar air base.

A senior helicopter pilot, of the rank of air commodore, heads the CoI.

Six IAF personnel and a civilian on the ground died in that “friendly fire” incident on February 27. Top IAF sources say the incident happened after officers from the ground missile battery misidentified the IAF chopper as a Pakistani aircraft on a mission to attack Srinagar.

The disaster took place the day after IAF fighters had struck a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorist camp in Pakistan to retaliate against a JeM suicide bomb attack 12 days earlier, which killed over 40 Indian troopers in Pulwama, near Srinagar. 

The CoI has found that, with IAF and army units across Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in a state of hair-trigger alert against expected Pakistani retaliation, two crucial omissions led to the missile battery opening fire and downing their own helicopter.

First, to guard against misidentification of aircraft in the prevailing state of alert, all IAF aircraft coming in to land in Srinagar were required to approach the air base only through a designated air corridor. Ground missile units would know that the aircraft approaching through the narrow “funnel” was a friendly aircraft.

For reasons that remain unclear, the Mi-17V5 helicopter was not in the safe corridor as it approached from the direction of Budgam, to the south of Srinagar. The ground missile units assumed the radar track they picked was that of a hostile aircraft.

Second, IAF aircraft are equipped with an electronic device called an Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system, which beams out a coded signal that identifies the aircraft as a friendly one to all IAF radars and IFF receivers. The IFF system is required to be switched on, especially in a situation where ground missile units are on high alert.

For reasons that remain unclear, the CoI has found that the ill-fated helicopter’s IFF system was not switched on that day.

IAF officers say they are keen to serve justice quickly and make an example of those found guilty of operational lapses. However, they are held back by a “go-slow” order from above.

They say the reason is: With the Balakot bombing and the Pakistani response, including the alleged shooting down of a Pakistani F-16 fighter, being painted in election campaigning as a major Indian victory, admitting the loss of a helicopter and seven personnel due to friendly fire would present a bleaker picture.

On February 27, the downing of the helicopter was obscured by the media attention on the downing of an IAF MiG-21 Bison fighter and the capture of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.

The IAF has declined to comment, stating: “The CoI is still in progress”. Asked specifically about the delay in finalising the findings of the CoI, the IAF said: “The time line of any CoI cannot be predicted.”

It is learned that the missile that was fired was an Israeli short-range surface to air missile (SR-SAM), which can engage incoming targets at ranges out to 20 kilometres. While engaging targets at those ranges, there is no scope for visual identification. Aircraft are merely a blip on a radar.

The incoming helicopter was engaged with the permission of the Base Air Defence Officer at Srinagar, who was required to satisfy himself that targets being engaged were indeed hostile.



In response to this article, the Indian Air Force tweeted at 10:26 a.m. on April 27:

“Today in an article written by Ajai Shukla he has incorrectly speculated that the IAF Court of Inquiry constituted to investigate the Mi-17 V5 crash at Srinagar on 27 Feb has been put on hold. This is his imagination and IAF categorically denies this.”

“CoI of aircraft accidents are meticulous & time consuming. All past inquiries of aircraft accidents bear testimony to this. Proceedings of a CoI are not commented upon by IAF till completion of the inquiry in all cases. There is no connection between elections & completion of CoI.”

Ajai Shukla responds:

This corespondent contacted the Indian Air Force for comments before publishing the article. The report carried their comments: "The CoI is still in progress” and “The time line of any CoI cannot be predicted.”

The IAF accepts the article's basic point: that, two months after the deaths of seven persons in a "friendly fire" incident, the CoI has not been finalised. 

None of the other details in the report, about how and why an IAF missile battery shot down an IAF helicopter, are being rebutted by the IAF.

The IAF claims that a two-month delay in finalising a CoI relating to an operational debacle is normal. However, top IAF officers say the delay in finalising the CoI has been imposed from above.

I stand by the report, which is based on inputs from two highly credible IAF officers.


  1. And how is it governments fault that a pilot or ground crew didnt switch on the IFF. By that logic Nehru should have been hanged in public for 1962 debacle

    1. Why government is shying away from accepting the fact?

    2. I agree that any lapse of any defense personnel cannot be attributed to government. By the same token any good deed done by armed personnel cannot be ascribed to the government.

    3. Armed forces don't take decisions but govt takes. Credit will always go to decision makers. It is the duty of implementers to do it right. Do read history. Do come out of congress mindset and evolve a progressive mindset

    4. You are prempting that Col Shukla is blaming the Govt.What exactly has made you infer that..??
      Now some common sense......who benefits from thus delay and suppression of facts....??

    5. Absolutely on Dot....suddenly it wont be labelled as XYZs Army anymore.

    6. Government has claimed that they had given the moral support and a free hand to go after Pakistan. The strategies and tactics are prepared and done by the armed forces....but when something goes wrong in military operations how can you blame the government for this?

    7. Chor chowkidaar wants to take credit for risk taken by army, why not debit shd also go to ac of chowkidaar. Why no responsibility for truck loaded wth rdx on modi

    8. One doesnt know whether indian helicopter was downed by firing fm pakistani side.Considering iaf involvemnt in rafales defence, iaf has been completely politicised

  2. Col Ajai,
    I always knew you have hidden agenda. But never knew you will use your contacts to wash ditty linen in public....SSB does make mistakes

    1. Sorry...whoever u r...but u cNt blame Col Ajai on this...he has been selectively targetted for bringing out the truth before....and he is doing a great service to the Nation by placing some facts before us citizens and the devious games being played upon We the citizens.

  3. The chopper could not be flying very fast. The radar signature would have shown a slow moving object....not f16. If only binoculars had been used to spot the UFO BY MOBILE SAM UNITS

  4. CoI is a confidential matter and it becomes more important when a CoI is still in progress. Putting these informations in public forum with a prejudged heading, having no specific proof of the verdict of CoI, is wrong. It misleads common people and also might lead to disturbances in the country. This kind of hayware remark should be avoided.

    1. I guess thats bcos Col Ajai knows that the COI has been internally concluded but is being delibetately held bck.
      The SAM missile unit hving being deployed to engage a target cannot be hidden at any cost...how can anyone destroy that foot print...unless some forces want to depress that info.

  5. A swarm of Bakts have descended on Ajai Shukla after this report.
    The BJP IT department has swung into full gear, the report has them worried.
    The barrage of abuse on Twitter and elsewhere means the report has needled the BJP election campaign.
    This is because it’s from a highly credible journalist from a respected publication the Business standard.
    Earlier this month Lara Seligman the respected Foreign Policy’s Pentagon correspondent was also the recipient of abuse on Twitter, for publishing a report which cast doubts on the IAFs claim to shooting down a Pakistani F16 aircraft.
    We are in the post-post truth age where journalists like Ajai Shukla have to work hard to bring the truth to the great Indian public amid, the misinformation spread by the BJP.
    The vile reaction by orchestrating a misinformation campaign on twitter against a professional journalist is an example of the subversion of our democracy.
    Don’t let the Bastards grind you down Broadsword.
    Jai Hind

    1. Well said! The ruling party and particularly their PM have mastered the art of undermining democratic institutions and painting wholesale blunders like demonetisation as great 'nationalistic' achievements.

    2. Nice ...shows whom you support

    3. Sid Thorat...hope the repky abv clatifies ypur doubts and subvertive tactics to delink the possibility of the Govts intetest and gain in hiding that info.


    4. Could not find his report in Business Standard though he is consultant with the newspaper

    5. Could not find his report in Business Standard though he is consultant with the newspaper

    6. Nope , shows who we don't support.

  6. Ajai Shukla is a well reputed journalist. To ascribe any malafide intentions on his report is indeed a failure of the system. The public have a right to know the truth and in good time. Suppression of truth indicates that there is more to it than made out.

  7. War means losses on both sides. Biggest issue is making Indian public to expect Indian Army operations as Rambo movie. This will badly effect initiative by Armed forces as put lot of stress with fake ecpectetations.

    People of India should be taught history of sacrifices especially by Sikh fighting against invaders as even when gifting against odds of one against thousands people dressed like Grooms celebrated war and enjoyed death.

    Modern Indians need to follow these traditions as we have not to under estimate enemy while fighting wars.

    Also we should prepare our public how to face worst case scenario of a nuclear warespecially in border states.

    To avoid such accidents we need to purchase best of technology and export maximum manpower to other countries for earning foreign exchange.

    1. Today a frightened baniya who is 24x7 surrounded by thousands of securitymens is taking credit for surgical strike whose success is doubtful

  8. You censored my comment on LeT…
    Now the cat is out of bag...

  9. Does the govt fear that a public perception may arise whether Mi17 was in a friendly or foe's corridor? In the later case,it may puncture the mascular air (Ghar me ghuskar mara) created by BJP.

  10. It is the Indian television media which portrayed the IAF in the Rambo style. Much before any strike was carried out the air exercises in Rajasthan were shown as attack on Pakistan. Now as the skeletons are falling out in the open it is worrying for those who have been hiding the truth.

  11. Ajai, You may be better aware of the facts but there are times when facts don't matter as much intentions. I hope your intentions are right.

    Wrote a small piece on our course blog

  12. Ajai Shukla,
    How low can you stoop down. Look at yourself. A smart soldier has changed drastically through years of foolish anti government alignment with Pranoy's team.
    What's the gain by rejoicing a loss during the fog of war. Tone of your comment is like that. Please retain some dignity of your yester years.

    1. One doesnt win war wth propaganda like chowkidaar is doing. India has bb a loser in this skirmiah. While success of indian mission is doubtful, it is a fact tht in 5 mn dogfight india lost a plane @ pilot, it is scary, today india is celebrating this loss for political reason. Modi shd have responded nxt day whn pak retaliated in broad daylight

  13. This is great journalism. India needs more journalists like you who are willing to question the narrative provided by the press - the main job of journalists!

    Thank you!

  14. All these articles make resolve of Nation week.

    All Hindus especially middle class Hindus need to rise and give birth to at least three Sons averaging to six children.
    They should give one to RSS and under leadership of people with resolve like Pragya Thakur or Saniasi like Mr Modiji. One son be sent abroad for Labour and earning foreign exchange for India to buy weapons. The third son be at home to look after them.

    Though a Hindu leader proposed ten children but that may not be viable.

    Also poor of India can also send one son to forced , other son to Labour in Mumbai, Delhi or Gujrat or even Gulf and third son at home. There was reports that women managing farms in Bihar.

    We should handover all Govt school to RSS which will manage them very well as it is they have second largest chain of schools.

    We should turn to our roots and revive our 5000 or even older culture.

  15. Too good and sensational report which clearly tells the tactics and strategy followed by our armed forces!
    In the exuberance of sensational journalism some have the habit of knowingly or unknowingly letting the secrets out for the advantage of the adversaries!

  16. Great job by Col Shukla. This will help the family of deceased getting full pay benefits as per war rules else it will go as routine accident. Full pay till retirement age is one such benefit authorised to family NOK. Now, let us not debate that it was war or not. Benefits have to be given since alert was against Pakistan AF attack.

  17. Everyone familiar with aviation knows it may take MANY MONTHS before you figure out the real causes of a crash.
    It's ABSOLUTELY possible the missile simply locked on the chopper simply since it was detected by its seeker while having never been targetted, then it's necessary to figure out what missile it exactly was, were the remains of the missile found? Etc etc etc!
    Just let the investigation commission do its job and fix the responsibilities.
    It's a pity some use the tragic death of their country's militaries to boost some political agenda.

  18. Ground missile units would recognize that the craft approaching through the slim “funnel” was a friendly craft. Totosite


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