IAF Scrambled Fighter Jet To Burst A Balloon! Alertness Or A Hollow Threat?

A radiosonde probe attached to a balloon (file)
Shailesh Kumar,
New Delhi, 27 January 2016
“Yesterday, Indian Air Force Radar had picked up an unidentified shiny 3 meter diameter flying object in Barmer Area. Following interception, IAF had scrambled a fighter jet, which brought it down. It was a helium filled balloon from across the border with ‘no dangerous payload’, said defence minister on the side line of Raksha Mantri Awards for Excellence at DRDO Bhawan.
Indian Air Force radar on 26th January around 10:30 to 11:00 am initially spotted an unidentified balloon shaped object over Jaisalmer area at a height of around 8 kilometers. The object was big enough about the size of 4-5 RCS (Radar Cross Section).  Given the location, a border area adjoining Pakistan, IAF maintains Operational Readiness Platforms (ORPs). Immediately sniffing a foreign object, the Jodhpur airforce base scrambled Su-30mki fighter to set up a combat patrol.

Indian Air Force Sukhoi-30mki (file picture)
According to sources, when Su-30mki intercepted the unidentified shiny object, pilot found “Happy Birthday” written over it! It was clearly an air intrusion from across the border. However, no dangerous payload was found onboard the helium balloon, which was made by a US company, fighter pilot got instructions to shoot it down. Within seconds IAF multirole fighter Sukhoi-30 fired a burst of bullets with its 30 mm GSh-30-1 automatic cannon. The scrap found on the ground in Rathodo ki Dhani of Gogudi village in Barmer were perhaps the shells of armor-piercing high explosive incendiary, which could not be disintegrated. The 30 mm GSh-30-1 fitted on Sukhoi burst fires 1800 bullets a minute. By this time the easterly moving ‘birthday balloon’ reached Barmer and was at a height of about 7.4 kilometers when Su-30 burst the balloon with brust fire.  

Now the question is, if this balloon was not hostile, then why IAF scrambled a jet to shoot it down? Why would Pakistan send a balloon to India with no payload? If it was a meteorological balloon, then why “Happy Birthday” was written over it?

Police at spot in Barmer where the debris had fallen
Indian Air Force undoubtedly proved that the force not only has capability to intercept any air intrusion but also can swiftly and successfully deal with it. However, it looks a kind of joke for a layman to hear that an airforce had to burst a balloon with using a combat aircraft. But what if the balloon had dangerous payload attached to it. That could have included a bomb, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment or a thermal imager. The helium filled balloon of 9 feet diameter simply can’t be a ‘birthday balloon’ as it simply does not fit into birthday story. Now question arise why the Pakistani’s would use a US Company manufactured commercial balloon to be sent to India via air? Simply, because of deniability factor behind the US label.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar (file picture)
Now, what if it was meteorological balloon? Generally, meteorological department in many countries sends radiosonde probe attached to a balloon that goes to the same height and almost of a similar size brought down by IAF combat jet. The radiospnde measures temperature, air pressure, relative humidity and wind speed and direction and send signals back to the earth station. Most of time radiosonde detaches from the balloon and falls on the ground. I myself remember in 2007 in a village in Faridabad one heium deflated balloon with radiosonde equipment fallen caused panic amongst villagers. I investigated and found out that it was a balloon sent by meteorological department from Technology Bhawan on New Mehrauli Road. Infact, the matereological department sends these balloons almost every evening to measure atmospheric factors at lower altitude.  But these balloons are plain and does not have ‘happy birthday’ written over it. Perhaps, it may be a mischief of Pakistani forces or could also be a tactical signal to someone unknown behind the move.

Given the threat perception it involves, India can’t take a chance. A top defence source informed that perhaps Pakistan has some designs in sending the balloon to India. Pakistani forces must have been checking the alertness of Indian Air Force or how does Indian security agencies respond to the potential aerial threat. Defence sources informed that since the balloon originated from Pakistan, so Defence Ministry would inform MEA, about the incident with facts it gathered so far after the investigation, which will take up the matter with Pakistan at appropriate platform. 


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