IAF tacitly admits Balakot airstrike did not go according to plan

The Indian Air Force, it seems, has finally come around to tacitly admitting that its so-called ‘surgical’ airstrike on Balakot did not go according to plan.

An IAF report on ‘lessons learnt’ – covered by The Hindustan Times and other Indian news outlets – has acknowledged that changes in software made by Indian technicians to integrate new weapon systems with the Mirage 2000 aircraft used to carry out the strike ‘did not completely work’.

The report follows the Indian external affairs minister’s admission that no Pakistani citizens or military personnel were killed or injured in the action. It also appears to support the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s assessment that the precision-guided munitions (PGMs) used in the strike were incorrectly programmed to fly precisely into their targets.

The IAF report criticised the indigenous skills IAF uses to integrate new weapons systems onto the aircraft it uses. “The Balakot experience underlines integration of new weapons with platforms should be done by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) despite the cost involved,” The Hindustan Times quoted a senior official aware of the assessment as saying.

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It admitted that that the entire weapons package carried by the IAF jets used in the airstrike ‘was not delivered’, possibly due to changes in software made to integrate new weapon systems with the jets.

“One PGM did not leave the Mirage 2000 aircraft because it is a 35-year old legacy aircraft and there was drift in the inertial navigation system,” The Indian Express quoted sources as saying. “It meant that there was a mismatch between the location seen by the PGM and the aircraft at the point of the delivery of the PGM, which led to it not being fired from the aircraft.”

The IAF report also pointed out that the IAF could have carried out better ‘weapon-to-target matching’ – the IAF used Israeli-made SPICE 2000 precision-guided penetration bombs over a fragmentation weapon, which flattens structures.

It acknowledged that weather conditions created problems for the IAF warplanes as well. The Indian Express reported that the IAF jets also carried Crystal Maze PGMs, which could not be fired because of heavy cloud cover that prevented pilots from having a line of sight over the target area. “With its backward data linkage, Crystal Maze would have provided a video image of the target being hit which would have helped IAF quell doubts about the effectiveness of its airstrike,” The Indian Express said.

ASPI, in a March 27 report, first proposed the explanation that the PGMs IAF used in Balakot could have been incorrectly programmed. “An incorrect vertical coordinate will result in the weapon missing as surely as an error in latitude or longitude,” the report said. “Such errors can occur for various reasons, including by neglecting to convert coordinates from one coordinate system, or datum, to another (a datum shift).”

The report followed another ASPI report which, along with similar reports by Medium’s DFRLabs and Reuters, used satellite and other imagery to conclusively prove that IAF warplanes failed to hit anything other than a patch of trees.

Last week, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at a gathering in Ahmedabad, admitted that no Pakistani soldier or citizen was killed in the Balakot operation, prompting Pakistan’s military to express satisfaction that ‘ground realities’ had compelled New Delhi into revealing the ‘truth’.

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