A US-made helium-filled balloon that was shot down by a Sukhoi-30 fighter aircraft over Rajasthan had come in from Pakistan and could have been an attempt to gauge India's response time, top government sources said today.
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 when it was picked up by the air force radars which were on high alert in view of Republic Day celebrations.
"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.
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.