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Indian Air Force; Hark Back to Mi-17 Chopper Shot Down by Missile Over Srinagar and Six Officers Killed

An air warrior, MG has a checkered and owns a string of cars including Mustang and BMW


The incident

On 26 March an IAF MI-17 helicopter was shot down over Budgam airfield in Srinagar. The plane was hit by a SPYDER missile system that had been purchased from Israel. The incident took place at a time of heightened tension between India and Pakistan after India under Narendra Modi wished to retaliate for the Killing of 42 Paramilitary soldiers in a suicide attack by an Islamic terrorist at Pulwama close to Srinagar.

The IAF had mounted a secret mission and attacked a terrorist camp at Balakot. This camp was operational under the aegis of the Intelligence agency of the Pakistan army. During this period the entire IAF was on high alert anticipating a response from Pakistan. The PAF duly obliged and counter-attacked with f-16 fighters. There was a dog fight between the F-16 of the PAF and the MIG 21(BIS) of the IAF. During this dog- fight Srinagar airport and the air force base were on high alert.

Mi17 helicopter with 6 aircrews was airborne at the same time. The aircraft as per reports was in touch with the ATC. The crew manning the SPYDER Missile system perhaps did not follow standard operating procedures and thinking the blip on the radar screen an enemy Drone or strike projectile fired the surface to air missile. The Chopper was hit, broke into two and burst into flames, and crashed killing 6 officers and one civilian on the ground.


SPYDER system

It is important to understand the system as it's central to this episode. The system is an Israeli short and medium-range mobile air defense system developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems with assistance from Israel Aerospace Industries(IAI). This system achieved a notable milestone in 2005 when missiles were fired against test targets in Shdema, Israel, and scored direct hits. Since then, it has been showcased in multiple military exhibitions throughout the world.

The SPYDER is a low-level, quick-reaction surface-to-air missile system capable of engaging aircraft, helicopters, unmanned air vehicles, drones, and precision-guided munitions. It provides air defense for fixed assets and for point and area defense for mobile forces in combat areas.


The information was kept under wraps for almost 6 months and the earlier Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa made no mention of it. The entire incident was kept under wraps. Even the foreign press was not aware of it. The chief of the air force went about his job as if nothing had happened and kept on mouthing slogans in favor of the Modi government.

The BJP had an AX to grind to keep the information secret and accordingly the information was suppressed. One reason for this was the coming general election. Modi would have required to keep this information secret because in case this information was known to the general public the halo surrounding Modi as a decisive man who had launched an attack on Balakot would have been diluted.


Errors and Mistakes

It is now learned that the AOC, commanding the Srinagar Wing was moved out immediately after the incident to ensure an impartial probe.

Sources relate as brought out in the Print that at the time the chopper was hit by a missile fired by the Israeli-made Spyder air defense system, it had been in contact with air traffic control (ATC) as it was approaching the airbase.

The ATC was in touch with the helicopter and knew it was coming back. However, the weapon operators fired because they felt it was an unmanned aircraft coming their way, As per sources, it appears there was a lack of coordination. These were some of the issues that the COI examined.

It has been learned that the IAF’s Barnala-based Integrated Air Command & Control System (IACCS), which is tasked with monitoring incoming aircraft from Pakistan, had not designated the helicopter a ‘Red’, the classification for enemy aircraft.

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The helicopter’s Identification of Friend or Foe (IFF) — a transponder-based identification system — was switched off. However, it is possible the system was switched off because it interferes with civilian aircraft transmissions, and because the aircraft could be identified by the enemy during battle.

A number of interviews with service personnel and video recordings were used for identifying the cause and lapses that led to the incident.

The previous Air Chief has retired a few days back and is succeeded by Air Chief Marshal Bhadoriya who held a press conference. The present chief has acknowledged that the air force had committed a "big mistake" when it shot down its own aircraft killing six officers and one civilian on the ground. it is a mystery why he chose to make this news public after 6 months when the previous chief had taken the oath of silence.

Last Word

The incident has left a bad taste in the mouth. If you look at the past history of the IAF starting with the loss of a Canberra PR reconnaissance mission over Pakistan when it was shot by an F-86, to the capture of two planes intact by the Pakistan Air Force in 1965 to the present shows that at some stage professionalism has been given a go by.

Much water has flown down the river and the incident is forgotten. It is about time the incident is opened and the findings of the Court of Inquiry made public. What remedial measures the IAF has taken must also be made public.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 10, 2021:

Tom, these are hard facts that cannot be hidden. thanks for commenting.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 10, 2021:

thank s I Rebello, nice you commented.

tom on June 10, 2021:

shame on iaf ,1959 canberra shot down,1965 two planes captured,1971 mig 21 leader shhot down his wingman flt lt dhavle killed,500 mig 21 crashed

Wg Cdr I Rebello on June 10, 2021:

I liked this article. As a professional, I think this incident was avoidable. But again we must remember that such incidents have happened in the war and that includes the USAF.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 07, 2019:


Thanks for commenting. Being a Air Force officer earlier on obviously i am more concernef that 6 officers lost their lives due to a goof up. The present chief is a no nonsense man and deserves our support but about the earlier.?

Ashutosh Joshi from New Delhi, India on October 07, 2019:

I believe the new chief wanted a clean slate, that's about it. This story was already covered in the first week and even though the gag took care of it. It still was in the public domain.

In the backdrop of a Balakote pacifier video this was neatly taken care off.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 07, 2019:

Thank you Lesli for commenting

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 07, 2019:

Lt Col,

Thank you for commenting. Yes, I agree but the new chief is a no-nonsense man and some result can be expected.

Lesli on October 07, 2019:

A pretty shocking account of ineptitude. I dare say the iAF cant be proud of this. I was also not aware of the surrender of warplanes intact to Pakistan. Can you throw more light on it?

Lt Col Parduman Singh on October 07, 2019:

An interesting piece. I agree the CAS and also the Cin C Western Command and the AOC, Srinagar are culpable. I understand that 2 officers are to be tried for culpable homincide not amounting to murder after the COI. This however should not be the be all and end all as the system needs cleansing. I am sure the officers would not have fired the missile without concurrence from the AOC Srinagar. The Air `Force has to ensure that such an incident NEVER takes place. Why did not the men mannng the missile battery not check with ATC? Its a real web and needs some top brass to pay for complete direcliction of SOP.

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