The theory that the missing Malaysian aircraft could have been hijacked for a 9/11-type attack on India was on Sunday debunked by the IAF and strategic experts who said it would not have escaped detection had it entered the Indian air space.
Senior IAF officers said India has multi-layered and seamless radar coverage over the areas suggested as the possible route for the aircraft in the theories in this regard and the aircraft would have been detected.
The theory about the possibility of the plane, which has been missing for over a week, being used as a missile to target India like the September 11, 2001 attack in New York was propagated by former US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.
In a tweet, he wrote, “Direction, fuel load and range now lead some to suspect hijackers planned a 9/11-type attack on an Indian city.”
Ruling out such a possibility, a senior IAF officer said in the US attacks, the planes were going from one city to another and deviated shortly before their designated landing places to carry out attacks.
“In this case, the aircraft will have to enter India undetected for long hours before carrying out such an attack and this would be impossible due to the extensive radar coverage in the Northeast and the Western sectors of the country,” he said.
In case, any such aircraft is detected, the IAF has a Standard Operating Procedure.
“If the aircraft is not identifying itself, it is intercepted and directed to follow our instructions. If it does not comply, it can be destroyed also because you don’t know its intentions and it may even carry out bombing or other kind of attacks,” the IAF officer said.
The IAF cited the example of an incident near Pakistan border when weather balloons had entered Indian territory and SU-30MKIs from air bases in Punjab were scrambled to identify them recently.
The force said it has also readied itself for 9/11 type attacks on important installations which are earmarked as Vital Areas/Vital Points and they are kept under the protection of the air defence systems. The list of these installations includes nuclear reactors and plants, important buildings and projects.
IAF officials said the force has a chain of radars deployed in Andaman and Nicobar island territories to keep a watch on activities in that region. “Had the aircraft flown in that area, it would have been detected there also by our radars,” he said.
Former IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal PV Naik also ruled out the possibility of the plane being used to target India in 9/11 manner.
“As per the reports, the aircraft was flying at a height of around 35,000 feet and it is very difficult to go undetected at that altitude…It is difficult because you need proper planning and you cannot do something like this flying at those heights,” he said.
Former Western Air Commander Air Marshal AK Singh also said the plane could not have reached India undetected.
“The aircraft passing over mainland India and going away undetected is very difficult. The possibility of it carrying out any attack is also very difficult because the reports suggest that it was flying at a very high altitude,” he said.
He felt if the plane had turned towards Indian peninsula, it could have passed through the peripheries of India by flying over Bhutan, Nepal or Tibet where there are gaps in radar coverage.