Brand-new DELHI: India will take up with Pakistan the issue of air intrusion by a huge balloon which was shot down by a Sukhoi-30MKI after it was detected coming from across the border into the Barmer region of Rajasthan by IAF radars on Tuesday morning.
Though the “commercial” balloon manufactured by a US company did not contain any suspicious payload like sensors and cameras or any explosive material, sources said it could have actually been used to probe Indian air defence capabilities. It’s a standard military practice to fly aircraft, helicopters, drones and the like near a border to test an adversary’s sensors and reaction time.
Interestingly, “Happy Birthday” and “CUPAFLOAT” were written on the helium-filled, 3-metre diameter balloon, which was at an altitude of 7.9-km when it was shot down by the Sukhoi at around 10.30am on Tuesday. Taking no chances amid a higher security alert around the country on Republic Day, the Sukhoi fired as several as 97 rounds from its 30mm GSh-301 auto-cannon at the balloon to ensure it was destroyed in the air.
The defence ministry has actually taken serious note of the episode, especially since the balloon was flying at an altitude much higher than that of helicopters, and asked the external affairs ministry to raise it with Pakistan.
“Our radars picked up an unidentified, shiny flying object entering our airspace. A fighter was quickly scrambled (from the Jodhpur airbase) to intercept it. The jet shot it down. It was balloon. There was no payload,” said defence minister Manohar Parrikar, speaking on the sidelines of a function on Wednesday.
The IAF, in turn, said: “Due to heightened security alert, the balloon was shot down as it could have actually been carrying some payload. However, on analysis of the debris, it was established that there was no dangerous payload on it.”
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 actually 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.