India’s Inadvertent Missile Launch Underscores the Risk of Accidental Nuclear Warfare

Zia Mian and M. V. Ramana in Scientific American: Last month, while most of the world focused on the war in Ukraine and worried that a beleaguered Russian leadership might resort to nuclear weapons, thus escalating the conflict into a direct war with the U.S.-led NATO nuclear-armed alliance, a nearly tragic accident involving India and Pakistan pointed to another path to nuclear war.

Brahmos’ soft landing inside Pakistan. Illustration by Sadia Tariq

The accident highlighted how complex technological systems, including those involving nuclear weapons, can generate unexpected routes to potential disaster—especially when managed by overconfident organizations. India and Pakistan possess more than 300 nuclear weapons between them, and have fought multiple wars and faced many military crises. On March 9, three years after their dispute over Kashmir escalated into attacks by jet fighters, the Pakistan Air Force detected “a high speed flying object” inside Indian territory change course and veer suddenly toward Pakistan. It flew deep into Pakistan and crashed. The object was a BrahMos cruise missile, a weapon system developed jointly by India and Russia. India soon stated the launch was an accident. More here.

A month after Brahmos’ ‘inadvertent’ launch, veering and landing inside Pakistan took place, Pakistan conducted successful flight test of Shaheen-III surface to surface ballistic missile. The test flight, said ISPR on its social media handle, “was aimed at revalidating various design and technical parameters of the weapon system.”

Shaheen III is Pakistan’s longest range ballistic missile. Its test launch “was to signal Pakistan’s resolve to maintain credible minimum deterrence and capability to target entire Indian territory including (the) Andaman Islands,” tweeted Dr. Syed M. Ali, a senior policy analyst based in Islamabad. Read more of his views here.

The stranded asset (Brahmos) for Pakistan is akin to a Area 51 prize possession, said Irshad Salim from Islamabad.