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China protests drone ‘invasion’, India says issue ‘under investigation’

Indian UAV that crashed believed to be an Israeli-made Heron, a medium-altitude long endurance drone used in mountainous terrain for surveillance.

world Updated: Dec 08, 2017 07:44 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis and Rahul Singh
Sutirtho Patranobis and Rahul Singh
Hindustan Times, Beijing/New Delhi
India-China relations,UAV crash,Line of Actual Control
A man walks inside a conference room used for meetings between military commanders of China and India, at the Indian side of the Indo-China border at Bumla, in Arunachal Pradesh on November 11, 2009. (Reuters file photo)

China said on Thursday that an Indian drone “invaded” its airspace before crashing on its side of the border, an incident that New Delhi attributed to a technical problem with an unmanned aerial vehicle that was on a routine training mission. China did not say when the incident had happened.

The Chinese foreign ministry said it had lodged “solemn representations” with India over the incident, while the country’s defence ministry expressed its “strong dissatisfaction and opposition”.

Sources in India’s defence establishment said the UAV that crashed was an Israeli-made Heron, a medium-altitude long endurance drone used in mountainous terrain for surveillance and intelligence gathering along the frontiers with China and Pakistan. This is the first time a Heron has been lost in a cross-border incident, they added.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing: “Recently, an Indian unmanned aerial vehicle invaded China’s aerospace in the Sikkim section of the China-India border.”

The Chinese military handled the situation in a “professional” way, he added. The border in Sikkim sector has been “delineated” and the “invasion” violated China’s sovereignty and wasn’t “conducive for peace and tranquility” in the region, Geng said.

Zhang Shuili, deputy chief of the combat bureau of the military’s western theater command, was quoted by official Xinhua news agency as saying: “India’s move has infringed upon China’s territorial sovereignty, and we are strongly dissatisfied with and opposed to this…We will earnestly carry out our duty and resolutely defend our country’s sovereignty and security.”

India’s defence ministry said the UAV was on a “regular training mission” inside Indian territory when it “lost contact with the ground control due to some technical problem and crossed over the LAC” (Line of Actual Control) in Sikkim sector.

In line with the standard protocol, Indian border security personnel immediately alerted their Chinese counterparts to locate the UAV, the defence ministry said in a brief statement.

“In response, the Chinese side reverted with the location details of the UAV. The exact cause of the incident is under investigation. The matter is being dealt with in accordance with the established protocols through institutional mechanisms to deal with situations along the India- China border areas,” it added.

Both sides did not give the date when the incident had occurred and the Chinese side did not share information on exactly where the UAV had crashed.

Geng said China has urged India to stop the “activities” of UAVs at the border and work with it to maintain peace at the frontier.

The Indian Army has a fleet of about 45 Heron UAVs, made by Israel Aerospace Industries, some of which are deployed along the border with China for surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations.

“These UAVs are very helpful in mountainous border areas as they feed airborne intelligence,” one of the defence establishment sources said .

The Heron has a range of 350 km and can operate at a maximum height of 10 km or 35,000 feet. The UAV can remain airborne for up to 50 hours, depending on the payload, and has a top speed of 200 kmph.

This new incident with potential for causing friction along the border came about two months after the two countries resolved a standoff of more than 70 days between border troops at Doklam near the Sikkim border.

First Published: Dec 07, 2017 18:23 IST