NEW DELHI — Adding to the litany of issues besetting neighboring nuclear rivals China and India, ranging from border disputes to the Dalai Lama to trade deficits, is a new one: UFOs.
"Over 100 UFOs seen along China border," said a headline in Tuesday's Times of India.
Indian troops guarding the often-tense 2,100-mile border between the two Asian giants say the objects seen in recent months are yellow spheres that appear to lift off from the Chinese side, slowly traversing the sky for three to five hours before disappearing. Indian military officials have reportedly ruled out Chinese drones — 99 of which reportedly were documented during the first 10 months of 2012 — or low-orbit satellites.
The acronym-happy Times of India says the UFO sightings have stumped the DRDO, NTRO, ITBP and other Indian military organizations. If they weren't stumped, this would presumably make them IFOs, not to be confused with ULOs, short for unidentified luminous objects. That's what other Indian new organizations have dubbed the objects, given the glow they reportedly give off "at day and by night."
In September, the Indian army reportedly deployed a mobile ground-based radar unit and a spectrum analyzer to assess what was dancing around up there. As the troops watched the light show, however, the machines picked up zilch, according to India Today magazine, suggesting that the UFOs were non-metallic.
The army reportedly aimed one of its drones in a UFO's direction, but the object disappeared. Astronomers were also called in. According to local media, they saw some of the same unexplained objects but gave up after three days, concluding that they were "non-celestial." Indian border troops report nearly 100 sightings over the last three months.
The lack of answers has caused more embarrassment than fear in military circles, India Today reported, amid concern that this could be a crude psychological operation by the Chinese or a sophisticated probe designed to test Indian readiness.
"If there has been some sightings, I wouldn't be surprised if it's a technology demonstration by the Chinese, and the Chinese are very advanced," said Lt. Gen. B.S. Jaswal, former Northern Army commander. "During my time, we didn't have such sightings."
N. Ratnashri, director of New Delhi's Nehru Planetarium, believes they could be some sort of balloon-borne objects that reflect ambient light, given that they're visible for several hours, which tends to rule out a meteor shower.
"I wouldn't put much faith in photographs of a shape that could be anything," she said. "There's nothing to tell us there isn't extraterrestrial life, but nothing to tell us there is."
Gaurav Tiwari, founder of the 500-member Indian Paranormal Society, said the news dovetails with reports he's read of alien camps in the Himalayas that the Indian army tolerates. But he hasn't been able to do his own research in the area, he said.
"Earlier reports said the Indian government was in touch with aliens and was getting technology from them," Tiwari said. "It's all over the Internet."
This is hardly the first time mysterious objects have been reported along the border, including sightings of unexplainable lights over the last decade around Ladakh, part of a barren militarized area wedged between the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir and Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin. But the number and frequency in recent months have set off alarm bells, launching reports up the military chain and even into the prime minister's office.
Troops have sometimes balked at reporting the sightings, fearful of being ridiculed. In 2010, the air force was reportedly called in to investigate UFOs that it ultimately concluded were Chinese lanterns. A decade ago, then-area commander Gen. N.C. Vij is said to have angrily dismissed similar reports of dancing lights as hallucinations.
Sunil Dhar, a geology professor with Dharamsala's Government Post Graduate College, was on a research expedition with four other geologists and several reporters in 2004 when they saw a 4-foot-tall robot-like figure one morning descending a hill just as they were climbing out of their tents.
As the object approached, some in the group raised the alarm, Dhar said, and it ascended back up the hill, changed color from white to metallic black and went airborne, hovering for about 10 minutes before disappearing.
"We were all amazed," he said. "We thought it was some UFO, some object from some place that may not be the Earth."
They provided photos to authorities, they said, but the government never issued a report.
"The UFOs in this area should be studied," he said. "Why in such remote topography? That is important."