Suspected drone sighting over ISRO’s research centre sparks security concerns

Facility synthesizes a range of liquid propellants for rockets

July 28, 2019 12:42 am | Updated 12:42 am IST - TIRUNELVELI

A suspected sighting of drones flying over the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Propulsion Research Centre (IPRC) at Mahendragiri around midnight on Friday has triggered serious questions about security at the complex.

Since the IPRC, being guarded by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), synthesizes a range of liquid propellants for ISRO’s rockets, including the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) for putting the satellites into the predetermined orbits, and tests the efficacy of the propellants on its test bed, situated deep inside the premises, the entire complex, situated on the lap of the rocky Western Ghats, has been declared a ‘high security zone’.

Apart from the CISF personnel positioned along the compound wall around the sprawling complex, watch towers have been erected at vantage points around the campus, and armed sentries will be there round-the-clock.

Against this backdrop, the complaint on drones having flown over the high-security zone for a few minutes on Friday night and the sighting of drones by the sentries have raised serious questions about the security of the complex.

In a complaint filed by the Deputy Commandant of the CISF unit at IPRC – Mahendragiri with the Panagudi police on Friday, it was stated that one of the sentries spotted a drone entering the aerial space over the IPRC around 11.50 p.m. and leaving after a few minutes. A similar object was reportedly spotted by the armed sentries at the main and outer gates of the IPRC, and the matter was immediately brought to the notice of the Unit Commander (In-Charge), who put all duty posts on high alert. Security personnel were instructed to “keep a close watch on the aerial movement and were told to inform [the authorities about] any suspicious aerial movement in their respective locations”.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Commandant (In-Charge), CISF, arrived at the spot and confirmed the flying object to be a drone. The drone movement was also spotted by the ‘duty personnel’ at South Gate. Subsequently, all necessary actions were initiated to track the movement of the drone and identify its controller, the complaint said.

Other facilities alerted

Besides alerting the Panagudi and nearby Aralvaimozhi police stations about the “sighting of drones” over the IPRC premises, the CISF also alerted its unit at ISRO’s Thumba Centre near Thiruvananthapuram, ISRO headquarters at Bengaluru and the air force detachment at Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, where the Indian Air Force had deployed around 150 airmen with anti-aircraft batteries to neutralise possible air strikes.

The CISF personnel here suspect that a drone meant for a religious or private function may have strayed into the prohibited airspace. But inquiries conducted in areas around the IPRC complex revealed that no such event had been organised on Friday night.

Inspector of Police, Panagudi, Shahul Hameed, told The Hindu that his colleagues, on receiving the complaint, visited the spot and conducted inquiry with the sentries. “We’ve given the CSR (Community Service Register) now…Only after ascertaining the facts, we’ll move to the next stage (possible registration of First Information Report),” he said.

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