U.S. Military Shoots Down Suspected Chinese Spy Balloon Near South Carolina

On Saturday, the U.S. military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon floating near South Carolina.[0] An F-22 Raptor fighter from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia fired one AIM-9X Sidewinder missile at the balloon, sending it plummeting into the ocean about six miles off the coast.[1]

The balloon had been detected entering U.S. airspace on Jan. 28, and had traveled from the Aleutian Islands to Canada, before re-entering the U.S. near Idaho.[2] China has insisted it was a civilian airship with “mainly meteorological purposes” that accidentally ended up in U.S. airspace, but the U.S. government is “confident” that wasn’t the case, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.[3]

The U.S. decided against shooting down the balloon while it remained over land due to the risk of falling debris hurting civilians, and instead opted to wait until it was over the ocean.[4] Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed the military downed the balloon at the direction of President Joe Biden, saying in a statement that the government believes the device was being used by the People's Republic of China “in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States.”[5]

The U.S. government has determined that the potential damage of falling debris from the balloon – its substructure is roughly 90 feet while the balloon itself is significantly larger and taller, according to a defense official – outweighs the risk of the balloon itself.[6] Additionally, people familiar with the matter believe the balloon is maneuverable and anticipate it will likely remain in US airspace for several more days.[7]

The Biden administration will be briefing the Gang of Eight – the four party leaders in Congress, along with the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees – next week.[8] Meanwhile, prominent Republican leaders, such as former President Donald Trump, have criticized Biden’s administration for not knocking the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon out of the sky.[6]

Using spy balloons dates to the late 1700s during the French revolutionary wars, and they have been used by various countries since then.[9] The balloons offer close-range monitoring, and are sometimes left subject to weather patterns but can be equipped with a “guiding apparatus” to control their path.[10]

0. “A WWI pilot's callsign signaled China's spy balloon was taken down” Business Insider, 5 Feb. 2023, https://www.businessinsider.com/wwi-pilot-callsign-signaled-china-spy-balloon-frank-luke-arizona-2023-2

1. “F-22 performs first-ever air-to-air ‘kill' – analysis” The Jerusalem Post, 5 Feb. 2023, https://www.jpost.com/international/article-730622

2. “China balloon: US shoots down airship over Atlantic” BBC, 5 Feb. 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-64524105

3. “The US Shot Down The Chinese Spy Balloon And The Memes Are Gold” BuzzFeed News, 4 Feb. 2023, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/stefficao/chinese-spy-balloon-shot-down-memes

4. “China says it ‘reserves the right' to deal with ‘similar situations' after US jets shoot down suspected spy balloon” CNN, 5 Feb. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/04/asia/beijing-reacts-us-jets-shoot-chinese-spy-balloon-intl-hnk/index.html

5. “3 Navy Warships, FBI Now Hunting for Wreckage of Chinese Spy Balloon off South Carolina – USNI News” USNI News, 4 Feb. 2023, https://news.usni.org/2023/02/04/3-navy-warships-fbi-now-hunting-for-wreckage-of-chinese-spy-balloon-off-south-carolina

6. “What to know about the suspected Chinese spy balloon” CNN, 4 Feb. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/04/politics/chinese-spy-balloon-us-latest/index.html

7. “China-US Spy Program News: February 5, 2023” Bloomberg, 3 Feb. 2023, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-02-03/high-flying-balloon-seen-as-part-of-broader-chinese-spy-program

8. “House GOP eyes China spy balloon investigations” Axios, 4 Feb. 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/02/04/china-balloon-house-gop-investigation

9. “It's 2023. Why are militaries still using spy balloons?” POLITICO, 3 Feb. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/02/03/militaries-spy-balloons-china-00081115

10. “What are ‘spy balloons’ and why are they used?” Al Jazeera English, 5 Feb. 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/2/5/explainer-what-are-spy-balloons-and-why-are-they-used