Sat, 13 May 2023 at 12:31 pm BST
A hunt is underway in Poland for a mystery object, believed to be a spy balloon, that was spotted in the sky.
The object entered Polish airspace from the direction of Belarus – but radar contact was lost some 180 miles west of the border, the country’s defence ministry said.
With Russia’s war in Ukraine raging across its border, Nato member Poland is on high alert for infractions of its airspace, and national security is a key issue ahead of a general election later this year.
Warsaw officials are already facing pressure after an object – claimed in a report by broadcaster RMF to be a Russian cruise missile – was found by a horseriding citizen in a forest near the Polish city of Zamosc in late April, four months after it is suspected to have crossed the border during a Russian attack on Ukraine.
That infraction appears to have followed shortly after two Polish citizens were killed in November by what Warsaw concluded was a misfired Ukrainian air defence missile.
The latest suspected military object to breach Polish airspace from the east did so on Friday evening, an army spokesperson told broadcaster TVN 24.
“The Air Operations Center noted the appearance in Polish airspace of an object that flew in from the direction of Belarus,” Poland’s defence ministry said on Saturday.
Radar contact with the object, which “is probably an observation balloon”, was lost near Rypin, the ministry said, referring to a town in central Poland some 90 miles northwest of the capital.
A search for the object has begun, a spokesperson for Poland’s Territorial Defence Force said.
Russian and Belarusian authorities were not immediately available for comment.
Spy balloons, a seemingly archaic concept first introduced during the French revolutionary wars, burst back into the public consciousness in February when the United States shot down a Chinese balloon in its airspace, followed by several similar objects.
The incursions prompted Britain to call for a security review, with defence secretary Ben Wallace saying he would work with allies to assess the threat posed by the surveillance devices. “This development is another sign of how the global threat picture is changing for the worse,” he later told The Sun.
With the realm of space satellites – the traditional “higher ground” sought by military strategists in recent years – now heavily congested and contested, it appears that the “sub-space domain” is once again in demand, suggests security and intelligence expert John Blaxland of the Australian National University.
“This part of the sky has developed a whole new utility and importance for international surveillance and espionage that we had thought was passed and is obviously back,” he told The Guardian.
Additional reporting by Reuters