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Was the 2023 China balloon a Chinese surveillance balloon or a Chinese weather balloon? Here’s how we know it was a…

Chinese surveillance balloon over Billings, MT

Pentagon officials announced on February 2, 2023, that they had detected a Chinese “surveillance balloon” flying over Montana. The following day, the Pentagon’s press secretary said that the balloon was over the central U.S. and moving eastward at about 60,000 feet. On February 11, a U.S. fighter aircraft shot down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina.

The US was quick to proclaim the balloon was a Chinese surveillance balloon. China countered saying it was nothing more than a weather balloon. Who was lying and who was telling the truth?

Yes, it was a Chinese spy balloon

It had the ability to maneuver

We are reasonably sure it was indeed a Chinese surveillance balloon. Firstly, Pentagon press secretary, Air Force Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, held a press briefing where he stated, “We know that it’s a surveillance balloon…. We know this is a Chinese balloon and that it has the ability to maneuver.” The ability to maneuver is a dead giveaway. Pictures showed the balloon had small motors and propellers.

It remained airborne for several days

However, lest our government deceive us (ahem), other attributes suggest the balloon was a spy balloon. For instance, the Chinese balloon stayed in the air for several days. A typical weather balloon only remains airborne for a couple of hours.

It flew over sensitive areas

The balloon flew over some of the US’s most sensitive areas, including atomic missile silos in Montana.

It carried unconventional weather balloon equipment

The balloon carried unconventional equipment. Unlike a weather balloon, this balloon carried a collection pod and massive solar panels on a metal truss suspended below the balloon. Besides, China would have little need to monitor weather patterns over the United States (detailed weather data is publicly available) and certainly know how to constrain a weather balloon’s path.

It was huge!

The Chinese balloon was massive – about the size of three buses. Weather balloons, on the other hand, are only about 20 feet across.

The US response was uncharacteristic

The United States canceled its summit meeting with China because of the incident. The US wanted to keep the meeting. It is believed the US knew about the balloon well before the news was released but chose to keep the American public in the dark so the meeting could go on.

It’s happened before people!

Chinese spy balloons are nothing new. They simply don’t make the news as this one did. After the incident, a senior defense official admitted that surveillance balloons strayed into U.S. territory one previous time during the Biden administration and three times during the Trump administration. In fact, we know that China has developed a fleet of balloons to conduct surveillance operations and that these balloons have been spotted over countries across five continents.

But why?

Why didn’t the United States shoot it down earlier if it was a spy balloon? Because there wasn’t a need. The balloon’s equipment had been disabled by US weaponry and offered no surveillance benefits to the Chinese government – and shooting down the balloon would potentially spread debris across a seven-mile radius. Letting the balloon continue its path eastward allowed the US to let the balloon reach the ocean, where it could be shot down and retrieved safely and without interference.

Video of the F-22 shooting down the Chinese surveillance balloon

Photos of the Chinese spy balloon recovery effort

Image Credits

In-Article Image Credits

Chinese spy balloon passing southwest of Charlotte, NC, on the morning of February 4, 2023 via Wikimedia Commons by Jeanne with usage type - Public Domain. February 4, 2023
Chinese surveillance balloon over Billings, MT via Wikimedia Commons by Chase Doak with usage type - Creative Commons License. February 1, 2023
Map showing the trajectory of the 2023 Chinese balloon via Wikimedia Commons by M. Bitton with usage type - Creative Commons License. February 4, 2023
China spy balloon drifts over Myrtle Beach shortly before the shoot-down via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Creative Commons License. February 4, 2023
F-22 tracks the Chinese surveillance balloon via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Creative Commons License. February 4, 2023
2023 Chinese Ballon Missile Impact via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Creative Commons License. Video stills of missile hitting Chinese Spy Balloon on Feb 4 2023. This media file is a derivative work incorporating another work or works.

Featured Image Credit

Chinese surveillance balloon over Billings, MT via Wikimedia Commons by Chase Doak with usage type - Creative Commons License. February 1, 2023

 

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