A US-made balloon shot down by an Indian Air Force fighter jet in Rajasthan on Republic Day had come from Pakistan and may have been an attempt to test India’s defence and response time, top government sources said on Wednesday.
The IAF scrambled a Sukhoi-30 warplane and deployed armed Mi-17 helicopters after radars picked up an “unidentified balloon-shaped object” at a height of 25,000 feet between 10.30am and 11am on Tuesday when the ceremonial parade was in progress in New Delhi. The fighter’s 30mm GSh-301 auto cannon is said to have fired 97 rounds.
“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 sources said the balloon, with a three-metre diameter, 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 latest mystery comes a month after a similar incident was reported in Sinli Jagir village in Barmer, where villagers claimed debris from an aircraft had fallen in the area after an “explosion.” Samples were collected and handed over to the air force for examination, but no report has been released in the case so far.