A suspicious balloon the Indian Air Force shot down over Barmer on the 67th Republic Day appeared to have come from Pakistan in a possible move by the neighbour to test India’s response, a top government source said on Wednesday.
The IAF scrambled a Sukhoi-30 warplane and deployed armed Mi-17 helicopters on Tuesday after radars picked up an “unidentified balloon-shaped object” between 10.30am and 11am when the Republic Day parade was in progress in New Delhi. The rounds fired at the balloon were said to be from the fighter’s 30mm GSh-301 auto cannon.
“Our radars picked up a shiny flying object entering Indian airspace. A fighter jet was quickly scrambled which intercepted it and shot it down,” defence minister Manohar Parrikar said, refusing to divulge more details. Interestingly, a balloon comes under the definition of an aircraft under Section 2(1) of the Aircraft Act, 1934. The definition covers kites, too.
The source said the balloon, with a diameter of three metres, had a “Happy Birthday” message printed on it. The defence ministry is likely to take up the matter with the ministry of external affairs.
An IAF spokesperson said on Wednesday: “Due to heightened security alert, the balloon was shot down as it could have been carrying unknown payload. However, on the analysis of the debris it was established there was no dangerous payload.”
HT had reported on Wednesday that security agencies were not ruling out the possibility that the object had flown in from across the border, given the location’s vicinity to Pakistan.
Rajasthan police had said residents of Gugdi village, about 20km from Balotra town near Kishor Singh Ki Dhani area, had first reported hearing an “explosion”, followed by similar reports from Panawada village in Baitu area. Police teams were rushed to the two spots.
According to police, the teams collected four to five solid pieces of debris at both places.
The recent incident comes a month after a similar incident was reported in Sinli Jagir village in Barmer, where villagers claimed that debris from an aircraft had fallen in the area after a “mysterious explosion.” Samples were collected and handed over to the air force for examination, but no report has been released in the case so far.