NEW DELHI-- A US-made helium-filled balloon that was shot down by a Sukhoi-30 fighter aircraft over Rajasthan had possibly come from Pakistan and could have been an attempt to gauge India's response time, top government sources said today.
According to reports, India has decided to take up the issue with Pakistan. The Defence Ministry has now written to the Ministry of External Affairs informing it about the incident.
The shiny 3 metres in diametre balloon, with "Happy Birthday" written on it, was flying at a height of about 25,000 feet in Jaisalmer district.
Taking no chances amid a high security alert around the country on Republic Day, the Sukhoi fired as many as 97 rounds from its 30mm GSh-301 auto-cannon at the balloon to ensure it was destroyed in the air.
"Our radars picked up a shiny flying object entering our air space. A fighter jet was quickly scrambled which intercepted it and shot it down," Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said without elaborating, on the sidelines of an event here when asked about yesterday's incident.
In a warning to Pakistan, Parrikar also said, "Pakistan needs to be told to avoid such incidents in future. It seems they were testing our response."
Pakistan to be told to avoid such incidents in future. It seems Pakistan was testing our response: Defence Minister
— ANI (@ANI_news) January 27, 2016
The Indian Air Force said in a statement, "Due to heightened security alert, the balloon was shot down as it would have been carrying unknown payload. However, on analysis of the debris it was established that there was no dangerous payload."
Meanwhile, government sources said that balloon, made by an American company, was flying at an altitude higher than that of an helicopter (18,000 feet) and hence leaving nothing to chance, it was shot down.
The wind speed was also high and the threat level was high.
"Investigation is on but it could have been an attempt to check our response time," they said, adding that IAF followed the protocol by scrambling the jet and shooting the object down.
"Imagine, if it was not just a commercial balloon," the sources said, adding that 97 rounds were spent as the fighter plane sprayed bullets as per Standard Operating Procedure.
As per the Aircraft Act 1934, "aircraft" means any machine which can derive support in the atmosphere from reactions of the air, (other than reactions of the air against the Earth's surface) and includes balloons, whether fixed or free, airships, kites, gliders and flying machines.
The balloon was manufactured by Illinois based firm CTI Industries.
All airbases usually maintain an ORP (operational readiness platform) round-the-clock. This includes two to three fighters being kept combat-ready in blast pens adjoining the runway at an airbase for immediate take-off whenever an alarm is sounded.
"The pilots, by rotation, are kept on duty for the ORP. They just have to zip-up their G-suits and run to the fighters with their helmets. It is supposed to take just three-four minutes from the time the hooter goes off to the actual taxing out of the fighters. The pilots are given their instructions once they are airborne," said an officer.
Meanwhile, another balloon caused a security scare in the country this afternoon.
On Wednesday, a balloon was spotted near Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Airport. The balloon was then seen moving towards Aya Nagar Air Force Station. Gurgaon Police said that the balloon was red and white in colour and about 1 metre in diameter.
However, Delhi Police later confirmed that the balloon had been launched by the Meteorological Department and there was no need for panic.
@ndtv the so called suspicious baloon is of the Met Department. All safe. Pl do not panic.
— Delhi Police (@DelhiPolice) January 27, 2016
(With inputs from PTI)
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