The Indian Air Force (IAF) admitted that the Mi-17 helicopter that crashed on February 27 was brought down by friendly fire. The helicopter was brought down a day after the airstrike in Balakot, when a Pakistani jet attacked Indian airspace and engaged in dogfight. Six IAF officers and a civilian were killed in the accident.
Defense analyst Ajay Shukla reported in April that the Indian Air Force was under political pressure to delay submission of the final report of the Court of Inquiry (COI). The Balakot airport was politicized by the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a strong response to the Pulwama terror attack during the general elections.
However, the Air Force denied that in May, days after the last phase of voting ended, it went on to suppress charges against officials, including those found guilty of flaws.
The investigation concluded that an Air Force surface-to-air missile landed the Mi-17 aircraft at Budgam in Kashmir on the morning of 27 February when the Indian and Pakistani air forces were engaged in a fierce dogfight. The helicopter may have been shot under the impression that it was an unmanned Pakistani aerial vehicle.
Air Chief Marshal reiterated that Pakistan lost an F-16 during the dogfight, a claim the country has denied. He also said that India lost a MiG-21 in an air engagement with the Pakistan Air Force, which led to the capture and subsequent release of Wing Commander Abhinandan.
One of the officers who has been convicted in the friendly fire incident is believed to be the most senior officer of Srinagar Air Force Base – the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) – when the incident took place. The officer was later removed from the post.
The other officers who were under scrutiny were the Terminal Weapon Director (TWD), who approved the launch of the missile. A report in The Economic Times stated that the COI was trying to verify if TWD was present in the control room when the order to fire the missile was issued, or if it relayed it to a hand-held transmitter.
Bhadauria also said that the acquisition of Rafale aircraft and S400 air defense systems would greatly enhance the operational capabilities of the IAF.
The Indian Air Force chief said that the issue of Pakistan using small drones “is a new threat and some procurement is already in process to deal with the issue”.