Indian Army ‘Mistakes’ Planets For Chinese Drones: A Humorous Glimpse Into Past Amid Beijing’s ‘Newest’ Worry

In an incident that combines military vigilance with the enduring mystery of the night sky, the Indian Army once found itself awkwardly placed when it mistook celestial bodies for Chinese ‘spy drones.’ 

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The story unfolds in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, a region marked by its rugged terrain and claimed by China as part of Tibet.

It all began in late 2012 when Indian Army personnel stationed along the disputed border with China observed what appeared to be unidentified flying objects (UFOs). These sightings were particularly alarming given the region’s history of border tensions and the increasing use of drone technology for reconnaissance and espionage.

For several months, soldiers reported these mysterious lights, which they perceived as spy drones originating from across the border. The objects exhibited unusual behavior, including hovering in place for extended periods and moving against the wind—characteristics not typically associated with conventional aircraft or drones.

Concerned about a potential security breach, the Indian Army initiated a comprehensive investigation. They sought the expertise of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) in Bengaluru and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). These institutions were tasked with determining the nature of these “UFOs” and assessing any potential threat.

Astrophysicists conducted a thorough analysis, which included observations with sophisticated telescopes and other instruments. After meticulous study, the team identified the culprits: the planets Jupiter and Venus.

These two bright celestial bodies were particularly prominent in the sky during the sightings. Their brightness and apparent movement, when viewed from the ground without sophisticated instruments, led to confusion.

The isidentification can be attributed to a combination of factors:

  • Atmospheric Conditions: The high altitude and clear skies of Arunachal Pradesh provided excellent visibility of the night sky, making celestial bodies appear unusually bright and close.
  • Planetary Motion: Planets like Jupiter and Venus move along the ecliptic plane, which can create the illusion of movement, especially when observed over time.
  • Psychological Factors: The heightened state of alertness and expectation of potential threats could have primed soldiers to interpret any unfamiliar sight as a possible security threat.

To its credit, the Indian Army handled the situation with a sense of humor and used it as a learning experience to improve its protocols for identifying aerial phenomena.

China Worried By Foreign Spying

China’s top intelligence agency announced a breakthrough in countering espionage in its space sector. It revealed it had uncovered multiple spying cases over the past few years. 

This announcement came as part of a broad national security drive amid escalating tensions with the United States over technological supremacy and space exploration.

China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) disclosed the findings in a post on its WeChat account, reported SCMP. The post condemned the covert operations of certain foreign intelligence agencies attempting to infiltrate China’s space program.

The MSS stated that these agencies employed various methods, including inducement and coercion, to extract China’s latest aerospace research. “Certain countries regard our nation as a major competitor in the space field and spare no effort to contain and suppress us,” the MSS declared.

The agency emphasized that these espionage activities aimed to steal “core secrets” related to satellite remote sensing, communication, navigation, and positioning technologies.

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Components of the Long March 5B (Y2) to launch the Chinese space station core module at a facility in Tianjin. Credit: CMSA

China’s heightened vigilance in the aerospace sector underscores the strategic importance of space in the ongoing geopolitical rivalry.

Space assets are now crucial national resources, necessitating robust protection and management. The revelation of these espionage attempts also reflected the growing stakes in the space race, particularly between China and the US.

This latest crackdown follows a series of measures by China to bolster its national security. In March, the MSS released a microfilm based on a real espionage case. It highlighted how a foreign intelligence agency disguised its operations as investigation and consulting activities to steal sensitive information.

The film depicted a foreigner covertly gathering confidential data and state secrets, all in the disguise of assisting a Chinese enterprise with overseas investments. According to the MSS, if such intelligence operations proved successful, foreign entities could gain critical insights into China’s economic and national defense capabilities.

In response, the agency vowed to “strictly guard against the risk of espionage and theft of key aerospace technologies and data” and committed to “taking concrete actions to strongly safeguard national security in the space field.”

Who Is Behind The Espionage?

Allegations of espionage between China and Western powers, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, have escalated in recent years, with Beijing pointing fingers at these countries for engaging in covert activities against Chinese interests.

The Ministry of State Security in China has continuously accused foreign intelligence agencies, including the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), of conducting espionage operations on Chinese soil.

In January this year, the MSS disclosed a case involving MI6 using personnel from “a third country” for espionage activities against China, adding to the growing tension between Beijing and London.

Further, on February 18, the MSS accused the CIA of intensifying its intelligence collection efforts against China, alleging that the agency had substantially increased its budget and resources dedicated to China-related operations over the past two years.

The MSS condemned what it described as the CIA’s “all-out spy war” against China, which it claimed included the recruitment of Mandarin speakers and expansion of espionage activities worldwide.

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The MSS also criticized the US for portraying China’s efforts to defend itself against espionage as unjustifiable, citing the Counterespionage Law of the People’s Republic of China as a target of American smear campaigns.

These accusations have come in the backdrop of heightened geopolitical rivalry between China and the West, particularly the US, over various domains, including economic, military, scientific, and technological spheres.

Chinese security analysts have warned of a potential escalation akin to a “007-like” scenario, where espionage efforts by Western powers extend beyond traditional areas to encompass a broader range of targets in China.

China has not limited its allegations to the US and the UK In the past, Beijing has also accused India of engaging in espionage activities against Chinese interests.

These accusations have included allegations of India spying on Chinese military secrets, launching cyber attacks, and stealing intelligence on military and political targets in neighboring countries, including Pakistan.