US authorities have said the flight way of the Chinese Spy Balloon , first spotted over Montana on Thursday, might actually take it over “various delicate locales” and say they are doing whatever it may take to “safeguard against unfamiliar insight assortment.”
But what’s less clear is why Chinese spy balloon would want to use a balloon, rather than a satellite to gather information.
This is not the first time a Chinese spy balloon has been spotted over the US, but this seems to be acting differently to previous ones, a US defense official said.
“It is appearing to hang out for a longer period of time, this time around, [and is] more persistent than in previous instances. That would be one distinguishing factor,” the official said.
According to Reuters , A Chinese spy balloon has been flying over the United States for a couple of days, U.S. officials said on Thursday, in what would be a brazen act just days ahead of a planned trip to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Fighter jets were mobilized, but military leaders advised President Joe Biden against shooting the balloon out of the sky for fear debris could pose a safety threat, advice Biden accepted, U.S. officials said.
The United States took “custody” of the chinese spy balloon when it entered U.S. airspace and had observed it with piloted U.S. military aircraft, one of the officials told reporters on condition of anonymity.
Separately, Canada’s defense ministry said a “high-altitude surveillance balloon” was detected and that it was monitoring a “potential second incident”, without giving further details, adding that it was in frequent contact with the United States.
According to CNN. Using balloons as spy platforms goes back to the early days of the Cold War. Since then the US has used hundreds of them to monitor its adversaries, said Peter Layton, a fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute in Australia and former Royal Australian Air Force officer.
But with the advent of modern satellite technology enabling the gathering of overflight intelligence data from space, the use of surveillance balloons had been going out of fashion.
Or at least until now.
Recent advances in the miniaturization of electronics mean the floating intelligence platforms may be making a comeback in the modern spying toolkit.
“Balloon payloads can now weigh less and so the balloons can be smaller, cheaper and easier to launch” than satellites, Layton said.
Blake Herzinger, an expert in Indo-Pacific defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, said despite their slow speeds, balloons aren’t always easy to spot.
“They’re very low signature and low-to-zero emission, so hard to pick up with traditional situational awareness or surveillance technology,” Herzinger said.
According to BBC. Top military leaders, including Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, met on Wednesday to assess the threat. Mr Austin was travelling in the Philippines at the time.
Montana, a sparsely populated state, is home to one of only three nuclear missile silo fields in the country, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, and the official said the apparent spy craft was flying over sensitive sites to collect information.
But the military leaders advised against taking “kinetic action” against the balloon because of the danger that falling debris might pose to people on the ground.
Officials refrained from giving information about the exact size of the balloon, but described it as “sizeable”, with reports of pilots being able to see it, even from a distance. US media have reported another US official comparing it to the size of three buses.
The defence department, however, said there was no “significantly enhanced threat” of US intelligence being compromised, because American officials “know exactly where this balloon is and exactly where it’s passing over”.
And there was also no threat to civilian aviation as the balloon was “significantly” above the altitude used by commercial airlines.
The statement added that the balloon is unlikely to give much more information than China can already collect using satellites.