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Indian espionage aircraft on recce mission over Sri Lanka – Paper

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 7 January 2009 12:24 No Comment]

A day after Sri Lanka Army occupied the town of Ki’linochchi, India’s foreign intelligence agency and crucial adviser to the Government on foreign policy-making, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was engaged in a "secret aerial surveillance mission across the Palk Straits" on Saturday according to a report in the Indian media. The report quoted sources who claimed that an aircraft "with high-tech espionage equipment" belonging to the RAW’s top-secret wing Air Research Centre (ARC) had taken off from the Chennai airport around 3:00 a.m., on Saturday. The report filed by India’s largest selling English daily has buttressed the claims of Tamil Nadu politicians who have accused New Delhi of providing several kinds of strategic military help to the Government of Sri Lanka.

The surveillance cameras fitted on the ARC’s aircraft were capable of "getting photographs of spatial resolution of less than one metre" and could even photograph a person on the ground from a height well above 40,000 feet, the report claimed.
Full text of the news-report published in the Times of India is as follows:
CHENNAI: A day after the Sri Lankan army took over Kilinochchi, pushing the LTTE fighters to the northern jungles of Mullaittivu, India sent a select team of the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) on a secret aerial surveillance mission across the Palk Straits.

Sources told TOI that the aircraft belonging to the Air Research Centre (ARC), a top secret wing of RAW, took off from Chennai airport around 3am on Saturday. Sources refused to confirm if the ARC exercise was on the request of the Sri Lankan government.

"The ARC aircraft, which took off from Chennai with high-tech espionage equipment, flew quite close to the Sri Lankan coast and got back to another airport without returning to Chennai," a source said. ARC, which has a fleet of Boeings and Embraers fitted with some of the best cameras for high-altitude photography, can fly well above 40,000 feet.

The vision of the cameras, made on the lines of satellite cameras, can penetrate clouds and get photographs of spatial resolution of less than one metre, which means a small vehicle or even a person on the ground could be photographed from those heights. For civilian flights, there are internationally accepted preset codes. The ARC aircraft uses codes and call signs other than these and keeps changing them before every exercise.

The exercises are so secretive that ARC uses its own pilots and not even those from the Indian Air Force. While it uses civilian and IAF airports across the country, there is no fixed air base for ARC, which remains more of a dynamic arrangement than an organisation. "There was little notice for Saturday’s mission. The flight came from some other airfield and took off in the early hours," an airport source said.

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