The ban on airspace by commercial flights upto a height of 28,000ft over Barnala in Punjab bordering Pakistan has resulted in an altercation between the Indian Air Force and the Civil Aviation Ministry.
Israel-built, tethered aerostat surveillance systems (TARS) are expected to soon hit the skies at heights of 15,000 ft to monitor incoming cruise missiles and low-flying aircraft from the west.
IAF is clear about its decision. “There should be no grey areas in this matter as the corridor is controlled by the IAF,” sources said. “As far as matters of security go, there can be no further discussion on the matter.” TARS are helium-filled Mylar blimps that carry phased array radars which can operate 360 degrees or in sector scan mode, and while being like the $1 billion a piece Phalcon AEWs, are much cheaper, and roam the skies on cable tethers that are 20,000 feet long.
The IAF wants to absolutely prohibit flights over Barnala upto a height of 28,000 feet, and seeks the airspace to be designated “prohibited area”, but the civil aviation ministry says the border district comes in the air corridor for Europe via Pakistan and Afghanistan, and as such should be marked “danger area”.
Sources said that the Air Traffic Services routes under which navigation facility and ATC are under the aegis of the Civil Aviation Ministry.
TARS would be part of a massive Indian strategic early-warning system comprising three Phalcons fitted into Ilyushin-76 heavy transport military aircraft, and other ground-based, airborne and sea-based radars and sensors, and the project should have been up and running by July, except for the the undue delays.
According to sources, contract for TARS from Israel was signed two years ago, the IAF got command of the project, and after successful runs in Barnala, it would be tried in Kargil, sources said.