US Navy Downs Chinese Surveillance Balloon Off South Carolina Coast
The U.S. military recently shot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, 2023. U.S. intelligence and military officials believe the balloon is part of an extensive Chinese military-run surveillance program involving a fleet of balloons that has conducted at least two dozen missions over at least five continents in recent years.
The balloon was initially detected by US intelligence over Alaska a week prior to its destruction, and it was later confirmed to be a Chinese balloon with the ability to maneuver. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called off a high-profile trip to Beijing in response to the balloon’s incursion, citing a “clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law.”
The balloon is thought to have been equipped with multiple antennas and solar panels capable of collecting and geo-locating communications, as well as an array likely used for intelligence surveillance. It is believed that the balloon could have provided China with a significant intelligence gathering ability. However, U.S. officials said that the balloon's limited abilities and the lack of an immediate threat, especially compared to the potential for danger to people or objects on the ground, factored into the decision to wait to take down the balloon.
The debris from the balloon has been recovered by the U.S. Navy, and lawmakers have expressed outrage at China over the incident — as well as at the Biden administration for not shooting it down sooner.
China has continued to insist that the balloon was for weather purposes and that it veered off course. However, U.S. officials are now providing multiple public briefings and moving to declassify information about Chinese activities. With the continued appearance and forcible downing of airborne objects, attention will remain focused squarely on Chinese activities.
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