Till elections, Govt wants IAF’s COI report on chopper crash to be held back

In a column in The Business Standard, defence expert Ajai Shukla reported that a Court of Inquiry has been asked not to submit its report into a February 27 helicopter crash till elections get over

Wreckage of the MI-17 chopper that crashed in Budgam district of Jammu and Kashmir, Wednesday, February 27, 2019 (PTI Photo)
Wreckage of the MI-17 chopper that crashed in Budgam district of Jammu and Kashmir, Wednesday, February 27, 2019 (PTI Photo)

NH Web Desk

Two months after an Indian Air Force helicopter crashed in J & K killing six IAF personnel and one civilian, the Court of Inquiry (COI) set up to fix responsibility is yet to submit its report. Business Standard reported on Saturday that IAF has been asked to put the report on ‘hold’ till after the elections get over.

The reason, says Business Standard columnist, strategic affairs expert and a former army officer Ajai Shukla, is the finding that the helicopter was mistakenly brought down by missile fired by Indian ground forces guarding the Srinagar air base.

Shukla’s report was quickly contradicted by the IAF on Saturday morning itself. And in a tweet the IAF spokesman claimed that inquiries conducted by Courts of Inquiry are time-taking and they are not prescribed any time limit.

But the IAF did not contradict Shukla’s claim that the helicopter was brought down by friendly fire after it was mistaken to be a hostile, Pakistani aircraft. Nor has it contradicted the explanation provided by Shukla, based on inputs he claims to have received from credible IAF sources, on how the mistake occurred.

This version, writes Shukla, holds that the IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) system in the helicopter, it was found by the COI, was not switched on. Also, the helicopter did not follow the prescribed corridor for IAF aircrafts. Since it approached the air base from the wrong side, from Budgam, the Ground Defence forces assumed it was ‘enemy’ aircrafts and fired an Israeli missile to bring it down.

It was on the ground that it was identified as an IAF helicopter.

Shukla updated his report in the Business Standard and quoted the IAF tweet before declaring that he stood by his report.

THE IAF’s tweet: 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’s response:

This correspondent contacted the Indian Air Force for comments before publishing the article. The report carried their comments: "The CoI is still in progress” and “The timeline 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.

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