The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Close shave for top guns in war games

Oct. 16: A missile-launching system dropped from an Indian Air Force plane targeted at imaginary terrorists nearly wiped out two defence ministers, an ambassador and the country’s almost entire military top brass.

The anti-tank gun, fixed on a military vehicle, landed metres from defence minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov while they watched joint military exercises in western Rajasthan.

Ivanov’s family would have had its heart in its mouth as Russian television showed the missile system, parachuted from the aircraft, approaching the ground near the dais on which he was sitting with Mukherjee, Russian ambassador Vyacheslav Trubnikov, Indian army chief J.J. Singh and air chief marshal S.P. Tyagi.

Journalists and soldiers were shown on Russian TV running for cover but Ivanov, a former spy and close friend of President Vladimir Putin, and Mukherjee remained seated.

Ivanov, sporting sunglasses and a military cap, brushed off the incident and praised the IAF for such accuracy.

“Today an artillery system of India’s airborne forces landed right between two sand-dunes which is the ideal concealment from the enemy. So I raise my cap to Indian pilots,” Ivanov was quoted by Russian news agency Itar-Tass as saying.

“Nothing terrible happened, we all saw that and we all had sufficient time to react. Thank God we are not blind.”

Ivanov said the war games ' called Exercise Indra ' were as close as possible to actual combat conditions and that high-ranking officials usually do not sit on a dais during real fighting.

In a separate incident, two Russian parachutists almost collided in mid-air but no one was injured.

The Milan anti-tank missile launching system was dropped during “anti-terrorist” exercises at the Mahajan firing range.

Mounted on a Gypsy and tied to four parachutes, it changed course in strong wind and headed straight towards the dais.

An embarrassed air chief marshal later said he had sought a debriefing from the pilots who took part in the operation.

Ivanov, however, commended Tyagi for putting up a splendid show.

“I believe that everyone has performed tip-top today,” he said.

The army chief said the exercise was a simulation of an anti-terrorist operation and was meant to be as real as possible.

Russia was represented by the elite 76th Pskove division, which had gone into action in terrorism-hit Chechnya.

India sent the 50 Independent Para Brigade, an airborne division that reports to the army headquarters. The division took off from Agra and reached the target area in 35 to 40 minutes.

The war games involved four objectives, after dropping troops and equipment: capture landing ground, raid a fictitious terrorist training centre, annihilate the terrorists and evacuate the forces.

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