Chinese balloon: Many questions about alleged spy in the sky

What the hell was that thing?

The huge white orb that passed through United States airspace this week and was shot down by the Air Force over the Atlantic on live television on Saturday sparked a diplomatic maelstrom and erupted on social media.

China insists that the balloon was just an errant civilian aircraft used primarily for meteorological research that drifted due to winds and had only limited landing capabilities. "self direction".

US says it was definitely a Chinese spy balloon. His presence prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a weekend trip to China that was aimed at defusing already high tensions between the countries.

The Pentagon says the globewhich carried sensors and surveillance equipment, was maneuverable and showed that he could change course. He loitered in sensitive areas of Montana where nuclear warheads are stored, prompting the military to take steps to prevent him from collecting intelligence.

A US Air Force fighter jet shot down the balloon Saturday afternoon off the Carolina coast. Television images showed a small explosion, followed by the balloon slowly drifting into the water. An operation is underway to recover the remains.

A look at what is known about the balloon and what is not:

IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE, IT’S A SPY BALLOON

The Pentagon and other US officials say it was a Chinese spy balloon, the size of three school buses, drifting east over the United States at an altitude of about 60,000 feet (18,600 meters). The United States says it was being used for surveillance and intelligence gathering, but authorities have provided few details.

US military and defense officials said Saturday that the balloon entered the US air defense zone. north of the Aleutian Islands on January 28 and moved overland across Alaska and into Canadian airspace in the Northwest Territories on January 30. The next day he crossed again. in US territory over northern Idaho.US officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.

The White House said Biden was first briefed on the balloon on Tuesday. The State Department said Blinken and Assistant Secretary Wendy Sherman spoke with a senior China official in Washington on Wednesday night about the matter.

In the first public US statement, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said late Thursday that the balloon posed no military or physical threat, an acknowledgment that it carried no weapons. He said that “once the balloon was detected, the US government took immediate action to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”

Even if the balloon was unarmed, it posed a risk to the US, said retired Army General John Ferrari, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. The flight itself, he said, could be used to test the United States’ ability to detect incoming threats and find holes in the country’s air defense warning system. It may also have allowed the Chinese to detect electromagnetic emissions that higher-altitude satellites cannot detect, such as low-powered radio frequencies that could help them understand how different US weapons systems communicate.

IT ONLY TAKEN ONE SHOT

On Wednesday, as the balloon hovered over Montana, Biden authorized the military to shoot it down as soon as it was in a place where there would be no undue risk to civilians. Due to its enormous size and altitude, it was expected that the debris field from its sensors and the balloon itself stretched for miles. Thus, top defense and military leaders advised Biden not to take it down on the ground, even when it came to sparsely populated areas.

At 2:39 p.m. Saturday, as the balloon hovered in US airspace about 6 nautical miles off the coast of South Carolina, a single F-22 fighter jet from the Air Force Base Virginia Air Langley, flying at an altitude of 58,000 feet, fired an AIM. -9X Sidewinder on it. The Sidewinder is a short-range missile used by the Navy and Air Force primarily for air-to-air engagements, the missile is about 10 feet long and weighs about 200 pounds.

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Live news broadcasts showed the moment of impact, when the balloon collapsed and began a long fall into the Atlantic.

The F-22 was supported by a number of Air Force and Air National Guard fighters and tankers, including F-15s from Massachusetts and tankers from Oregon, Montana, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and North Carolina. . All the pilots returned safely to the base and there were no injuries or other damage on the ground, a senior military official told reporters at a briefing on Saturday.

PICKING UP THE PIECES

As the deflated balloon slowly descended, the US Navy ships had already closed in, waiting to pick up the debris.

The Federal Aviation Administration had temporarily closed airspace over the Carolina coast, including the airports in Myrtle Beach and Charleston, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina. And the FAA and Coast Guard worked to clear the airspace and water below the balloon.

Once the balloon crashed into the water, US officials said, the debris field stretched at least 7 miles and was in 47-foot-deep water. That depth is shallower than they had planned, making it easier to recover parts of the sensor package and other salvageable parts.

Officials said the USS Oscar Austin, a Navy destroyer, the USS Carter Hall, a dock landing ship, and the USS Philippine Sea, a guided-missile cruiser, are part of the recovery effort and that a salvage ship in a few days. . They said Navy divers will be on hand if needed, along with unmanned boats that can retrieve the debris and bring it back to the ships. The FBI will also be on hand to categorize and evaluate anything recovered, authorities said.

As for the intelligence value, US officials said the balloon’s journey across the US gave experts several days to analyze it, gather technical data and learn a lot about what it was doing, how it was doing it and why. why China could be using things like this. They declined to provide details, but said they hope to get more information as they collect and examine the debris.

SPY BALLOONS HAVE A HISTORY

Spy balloons are not new: the primitive ones date back centuries, but its use became greater in World War II.

US officials said Saturday that similar Chinese balloons briefly transited the continental United States at least three times during the Trump administration and once they learned of it earlier in the Biden administration. But none of those incidents lasted that long.

During World War II, Japan launched thousands of hydrogen balloon bombs and hundreds ended up in the US and Canada. Most were ineffective, but one was lethal. In May 1945, six civilians were killed when one of the balloons was found on the ground in Oregon and it exploded.

After the war, America’s own balloon effort ignited alien stories and lore tied to Roswell, New Mexico.

According to military research documents and studies, the US began using giant trains of balloons and sensors that were linked together and stretched over 600 feet as part of an initial effort to detect Soviet missile launches during the post-WWII era. World War. They called it Project Mogul.

One of the balloon trains crashed at Roswell Army Airfield in 1947, and debris was found by Air Force personnel unaware of the program. The unusual experimental equipment made their identification difficult, leaving airmen with unanswered questions that over time, with the help of UFO enthusiasts, took on a life of their own. The simple answer, according to military reports, was right over the Sacramento Mountains at the Project Mogul launch site in Alamogordo.

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