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11:01 AM, May 21, 2019
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IAF Mi-17 Helicopter

An Indian Air Force (IAF) Mi-17 helicopter was shot down by a missile fired by an IAF aircraft which mistook it for an enemy aircraft in Kashmir on February 16 around the time when Indian and Pakistani jets were involved in a dogfight.

The IAF had then blamed the crash on technical reasons which killed all six IAF personnel on board. “The helicopter was downed by a surface-to-air missile of IAF which mistook the aircraft to be hostile, initial inquiries have revealed,” the Hindustan Times newspaper reported today quoting IAF sources.

The IAF has since removed the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) Srinagar Air Base, the senior-most officer of the base, for circumstances related to the crash of an Mi-17 helicopter near Srinagar on February 27 after it came under friendly fire, even as a Court-of-Inquiry (CoI) continues to investigate the matter, the report said adding that the IAF declined comment on the matter.

The preliminary inquiry into the accident has allegedly indicated several lapses leading to the tragic accident, the report said. For instance, the air traffic control called the helicopter back even as air engagement between Indian and Pakistani fighters intensified. “Ideally, the helicopter should have been sent away to safer zone instead of it being called back to the base,” the Hindustan Times report said quoting a senior defence ministry official who did not want to be named. “The incoming helicopter should have been vectored into the pre-designated zone meant for friendly aircraft to hold till the alert was called off,” the official added.

All bases have designated airspace for friendly aircraft in case of an air-defence-alert. “Air defence platforms such as missile systems, air defence guns etc. are kept free; they are free to engage any aircraft which doesn’t identify itself as a “friendly” either through the IFF or by remaining confined to the airspace designated for friendly aircraft,” the second senior officer added.

In this case, the Identification of Friend or Foe (IFF) – a transponder-based identification system that informs the air defence radars whether incoming aircraft is friendly – was switched off, against the laid down protocol. “Had the IFF system been on, air defence radars would have at least identified Helicopter as a friendly aircraft,” the second senior defence ministry official was quoted as saying.

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