US Navy Retrieves Debris of Chinese Spy Balloon Shot Down Off Coast of South Carolina

The US Navy has released photos of US sailors recovering the debris of a Chinese spy balloon that was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, on the orders of President Joe Biden.[0]

The balloon, which was flying at about 60,000 feet and may have been collecting intelligence, flew over military sites, prompting the Pentagon to declare it a surveillance balloon.[1] China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied this claim, saying “it is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes.”[2]

However, Air Force Brigadier General Patrick Ryder stated, “We know that it’s a surveillance balloon…. We know this is a Chinese balloon and that it has the ability to maneuver.”[3] A second balloon belonging to China was spotted over Latin America.[4]

On Monday, Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, revealed that the balloon was up to 200 feet tall and was carrying a payload the size of a jet airliner, weighing about 2,000 pounds.[5]

Spy balloons are surveillance platforms, and they are capable of gathering a wide range of data and intelligence. While they are capable of many of the same tasks as satellites, they are much cheaper to launch and maintain. They are also much more difficult to detect, as they fly at much lower altitudes.

China is known to be using spy balloons, as is the US.[6] Previous Chinese surveillance balloon incidents reportedly occurred during the Trump administration and early under the Biden administration, but were not spotted by NORAD at the time.[7]

On Saturday, a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley AFB in Virginia launched an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile at a balloon that had drifted southeastward across the nation.[8] The balloon was downed off the Coast of South Carolina, and the resulting debris field is estimated to be as large as “15 football fields by 15 football fields,” with a depth of around 50 feet.[9]

In response to the balloon’s incursion, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken canceled a planned trip to China.[1] US Navy, Coast Guard, and other personnel are now surveying the remains of the balloon and its surveillance payload, in an effort to better understand the Chinese technology.[10]

0. “New photos show the Navy recovering downed China spy balloon off U.S. coast” CNBC, 7 Feb. 2023,

1. “Chinese spy balloon over the US: An aerospace expert explains how the balloons work and what they can see” The Conversation, 4 Feb. 2023,

2. “The suspected Chinese spy balloon is a Sputnik moment for the space industry”, 7 Feb. 2023,

3. “Chinese Spy Balloon Has Unexpected Maneuverability” Scientific American, 4 Feb. 2023,

4. “Photos: US Navy sailors pull downed Chinese balloon out of ocean” Business Insider, 7 Feb. 2023,

5. “Suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down over Atlantic was taller than the Statue of Liberty” CBS News, 7 Feb. 2023,

6. “What China’s Surveillance Balloon Says About U.S.-China Relations” Council on Foreign Relations, 6 Feb. 2023,

7. “Why Trump didn’t know about the Chinese balloons over U.S. soil” MSNBC, 7 Feb. 2023,

8. “U.S. Navy Collecting Surveillance Balloon Debris > United States Navy > News-Stories”, 6 Feb. 2023,

9. “Navy releases close-up photos of Chinese surveillance balloon recovery” ABC News, 7 Feb. 2023,

10. “Navy Underwater Robots, Divers Searching for Remains of Chinese Spy Balloon – USNI News” USNI News, 6 Feb. 2023,