What’s that in the sky? A bird… or a plane…?
Definitely not Superman.
It’s a “spy balloon” from China.
Recently, there were reports from American officials of a “high-altitude surveillance balloon” floating serenely across the skies of American airspace. The balloon was suspected to come from China and was a contributing factor to US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s cancelled trip to China.
This incident puts additional strain on the already tense relationship between USA and China.
What Is Going On?
This said balloon was reported flying over Montana, a state in the Western part of the United States.
Montana is well-known for its diverse wildlife, mineral resources and beautiful scenery, but it’s also the home base of one of the USA’s nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles.
No wonder USA was so sensitive about the issue.
China later owned up to ownership of the balloon, claiming it was a “civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes” which had unfortunately (or conveniently, we think), “deviated far from its planned course”.
Though for the less skeptical readers, China’s explanation may not be that implausible given the terrible weather in the USA, with multiple winter storms in the eastern part of the continent.
China’s foreign ministry also promised to “continue communicating with the US side” to properly handle this “unexpected situation”.
A second spy balloon was also reportedly spotted flying over Latin America.
What’s the Concern With Floating Balloons?
Flying a large, easily visible balloon across another country’s airspace may seem like a very technologically unadvanced and outdated way of surveillance given that we live in the world where AI and other high end military stealth weapons exist.
There are, however, several benefits of using balloons over say, satellites.
First, balloons can be equipped with modern technology such as radar sensors or spy cameras to collect the necessary data.
Second, balloons fly at a slower speed than satellites and are not confined to the satellite’s orbital route, so they can linger over certain areas and collect more information from the target area.
Third, they also send a signal to the country being “surveyed”. Given that balloons are large and visible, it is visible to civilians and can create chaos or alarm for the general public. Psychological warfare, if you will.
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The balloon has taken a leisurely tour over Missouri (in the northwest of the continent) and the Kansas City area within that state.
CBS meteorologist Ed Russo predicted that the balloon will continue to stay in USA airspace and “be off the coast of the Carolinas” after that.
Large balloon moving thru NW Missouri right now. Per NWS… this is NOT a weather balloon. Suspicions are that the object originated from central China. At current speed, the balloon will be off the coast of the Carolinas around noon tomorrow. #ChineseSpyBalloon pic.twitter.com/Rh1N8f8HVK
— Ed Russo (@EdRussoWX) February 3, 2023
If this floating balloon is really a spy balloon, you may be wondering why USA doesn’t just shoot down the balloon to get rid of it.
We had similar sentiments.
According to the US Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patr Ryder, shooting down the balloon is not the most feasible option as any falling debris could endanger those below.
He said that the US will continue to “assess options” to deal with this object which violates US airspace. However, consider the “size of the payload on this, looking at the potential for debris and the impact on civilians on the ground or property damage”, it posts a “potential risk to people while in the air” and they have not made a decision to shoot the balloon down.
The official stance is that the balloon “does not pose a risk to people on the ground as it currently is traversing the continental United States”.
One thing’s for sure—this spy balloon incident has definitely increased the tension between China and USA, especially if you view this incident as a flex of muscles with China flaunting that it can (and dares to) send balloons over US airspace.
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