Why didn’t Pentagon shoot down Chinese spy balloon floating over the US?

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Defense said on Thursday it was tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon floating in the sky west of Montana, underscoring mutual mistrust between the world’s two largest economies just as top diplomats prepare to hold talks in Beijing. Here’s everything we know so far:
1. What is a monitoring balloon?
Cheap, quiet, and difficult to access — hot air balloons have long been used for reconnaissance, including during conflicts like the American Civil War. The operation became widespread during World War I and was widely used during the Cold War, when the United States released hundreds of balloons to gather intelligence on the Soviet Union and China. While their use has declined with the rise of drones and satellites, many countries still use spy balloons. The Pentagon is expanding its investment in high-altitude inflatable equipment, Politico reported last year. Modern hot air balloons are often unmanned, but they generally lack propulsion and are subject to wind action.
2. What do we know about the balloon hovering over the United States?
The Biden administration revealed the existence of the balloon on Thursday, saying it was discovered earlier in the week and was most recently seen floating more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters) above Montana. The location is sensitive, as the state is home to the Air Force’s 341st Missile Squadron and its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. While China has not commented on the incident, a Defense Department spokesman said the United States strongly believes it belongs to the country without explaining why.
3. Are hot air balloons a security threat?
Details about this particular balloon’s exact capabilities are unclear, with a US official briefed on reporters Thursday declining to answer some questions about size or information. its specifications. U.S. officials have asserted that the balloon has a limited ability to collect meaningful intelligence data, beyond what China can gather through its satellite network. North American Aerospace Defense Command, or Norad, said on Thursday that it “continues to closely monitor and monitor the incident,” while Canada’s defense ministry said it was monitoring “the incident.” potential second incident” without elaborating.
4. Why hasn’t China put up the hot air balloon until now?
The Chinese have for decades complained about US surveillance ships and planes near their territory, leading to occasional confrontations over the years. And instances of Chinese balloon activity near US territory were observed prior to Thursday’s announcement, US officials said. But it is not clear why the hot air balloon is flying over the US at this time. The revelation comes just days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s scheduled visit to Beijing and risks undermining Beijing’s diplomatic efforts to create a constructive context for US Secretary of State’s first visit to China since Michael Pompeo’s trip in 2018.
5. Why hasn’t the Pentagon shot down the hot air balloon?
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin advised President Joe Biden not to shoot down the balloon because of the possible risk of falling debris. While authorities were weighing options as the balloon hovered over sparsely populated areas of Montana, it was assessed that the object was “fairly large” large enough to cause potential damage. It hovers above the altitude used by civilian aircraft, so is unlikely to pose an immediate danger to the public.
6. How did the US react?
The senior official said the United States had raised the hot air balloon issue with China, and the Wall Street Journal reported that the state department had summoned China’s charge d’affaires. It was not immediately clear if the incident would affect Blinken’s scheduled trip to China. Another official said the Biden administration has also briefed the staff of the “Gang of Eight,” a group that includes the chairmen and senior members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing for a stronger Biden response, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy calling the intrusion a “blatant disregard for American sovereignty.”


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