The US military on Saturday shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that had been drifting over th…
The US military on Saturday shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that had been drifting over the continental US for five days, prompting nationwide scrutiny and criticism of the Biden administration's handling of the episode.
The balloon was first detected on Jan. 28 crossing Alaska, Canada and then the continental US, including flying over sensitive military sites that house intercontinental ballistic missiles. US fighter jets from the 149 Fighter Squadron, based at Langley Air Force Base, fired an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile from 58,000 feet in the air, bringing the balloon down off the South Carolina coast.
The Pentagon said the balloon did not pose a “military or physical” threat, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a long-planned trip to Beijing this week over the “unacceptable” suspected surveillance balloon. Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for not shooting the balloon down earlier, while a senior Defense Department official said that Chinese spy balloons entered American airspace three times during Trump’s tenure and once before during the current administration.
The US and Canada tracked the balloon as it crossed the Aleutian Islands, passed over Western Canada and entered US airspace over Idaho before the F-22 stealth fighter shot it down off the coast of the Carolinas a week after it was first spotted.
The Federal Aviation Administration grounded nearby flights and coordinated with the Pentagon, which sent an aircraft to take down the balloon, creating a debris field about seven miles wide. The US Navy and Coast Guard are now attempting to recover the debris for intelligence purposes.
The incident has added to the rising tensions between the US and China and prompted questions about the US' vulnerability to surveillance. It has also sparked debate about the dangers of miscommunication between ships’ captains, which could lead to a military clash.
Video stills of the Chinese Spy Balloon after it was hit with an AIM-9X anti-air missile fired from a F-22 Raptor on Feb. 4, 2023, have been released, allowing for the public to gain insight into the technology behind the balloon. How do stratospheric balloons work and what is their capability for surveillance? A visual guide to stratospheric balloons and their surveillance capabilities is available for further exploration.
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