The U.S. Department of Defense publicly announced on February 2 that U.S. authorities were tracking a high-altitude reconnaissance balloon suspected to have come from China that entered U.S. airspace, which drew headlines from the English-language media around the world.
A senior U.S. Department of Defense official told the media that the U.S. side is very confident in its judgment that the balloon belongs to China. Similar activities have also been monitored in the past few years, including during Trump's tenure.
U.S. President Joe Biden was aware of the incident and decided not to shoot down the balloon out of concern for the safety of personnel on the ground.
U.S. officials emphasized that the altitude of the balloon is higher than that of general commercial aviation traffic, and will not pose a military or physical threat to ground personnel. They also emphasized that the United States has taken measures to prevent sensitive information from being collected, and has also dispatched F-22 and other fighter jets to take off.
The balloon reportedly flew over the state of Montana (Montana), which borders Canada in the northwestern part of the United States. This place happens to be where the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (Minuteman III) equipped with nuclear warheads is deployed, attracting many military observations attention.
The red area in the picture is where the Zouave missiles are deployed; the state on the upper left of the picture is Montana.
(US National Park Service)
Why does a balloon get all the hype?
Although CNN, the Wall Street Journal and other American media started their reports on "China's intriguing balloon" and even followed up in detail with many articles, looking at the reports of major media, the US Department of Defense did not actually provide the balloon. Any conclusive evidence from China of an ongoing espionage mission.
Meteorologists on Twitter quickly pointed the origin of the balloon to central China through airflow model calculations. Some US officials also told the Wall Street Journal that the balloon flew to Mongolia via the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and Canada. Dana.
However, these claims are still hearsay without evidence.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning did not directly deny the reports of "suspected Chinese spy balloons". He emphasized that China has always strictly abided by international law and has no intention of infringing on the territory and airspace of any sovereign country. He also stated that speculation and Hype will not help to properly solve the problem, but the Chinese side is learning about the verification situation.
A high-altitude balloon also appeared over Hawaii in February last year, but the U.S. has not yet confirmed the origin of the balloon.
(Screenshot of Star Advertiser website)
Canada, which monitors North American airspace with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), said it was monitoring a potential second case of the balloon.
In this regard, people can't help but wonder why Canada was silent about the spy balloon entering its airspace at first, but followed up after the US hyped up the incident.
What is also puzzling is that judging from the description of the high-altitude surveillance balloon by the US Department of Defense, this is actually a trivial matter.
Defense Department officials asserted that no matter what surveillance equipment was on the balloon, the balloon did not add any significant value to the information that China has already monitored through low-orbit satellites, emphasizing that the United States has full knowledge of the actual location of the balloon and the places it flew over know.
The implication is that even if the balloon continues to hover over the United States, there is no security threat.
That being the case, and there have been similar incidents in the past few years, why is there a need for such a big publicity at this moment?
There seems to be no reasonable explanation for this, other than exaggerating the propaganda goal of "China threat".
The incident happened at a time when US Secretary of State Blinken (Antony Blinken) was planning to visit China. This happened to be a good public relations opportunity to publicize that China poses a security threat to the West.
US Secretary of State Blinken is expected to visit China on February 5 and 6.
However, although the practice of using balloons as intelligence monitoring tools seems to be a historical relic of the "pre-satellite era", the development of aviation and national defense in recent years has indeed launched a re-exploration of modern military uses of balloons.
Modern Development of High Altitude Balloons
For example, in May 2021, some military observers discovered that there were multiple advanced balloons floating in the air on both sides of the east and west coasts of the United States. According to analysis, it was a project developed by the "Thunderhead Balloon System" of the American company Raven Aerostar. It can stay at an altitude of up to 92,000 feet.
According to the company's 2020 promotional video, Thunderhead balloons can stay at extreme high altitudes in disputed airspace, can form a network with a group of balloons, operate for several months, have advanced network communication functions, and can be equipped with various advanced radar sensors, electronic Intelligence collection systems, electronic warfare systems, and more.
Its height also exceeds the applicable range of many portable air defense weapons. For example, the US-made Stinger anti-aircraft missile, which is very useful in the Ukrainian battlefield, can only deal with targets 15,700 meters above the ground.
The U.S. Army also has plans to use high-altitude balloons to cooperate with drones for joint military operations.
There have been similar developments on the Chinese side—although their public use is often limited to science.
For example, the Aerospace Information Innovation Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences used its "Jimu-1 III airship platform" to carry a variety of weather analysis instruments to fly over Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, to an altitude of 9,032 meters (about 29,600 feet) in May last year. .
In 2021, Western private intelligence also used satellite photos to analyze a large hangar building in Northwest China, pointing out that China is building large flying ships.
Three scholars from Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics also discussed balloon technology that is considered to be used for high-altitude surveillance in the "Acta China Aeronautics and Astronautics" in 2018, and also provided some illustrations of Chinese-made aircraft.
An image of the aircraft in the above-mentioned Acta Aeronautical Sciences of China paper.
(PDF screenshot of the article)
Some military analysts pointed out that balloons are not easy to be found, and they have better staying and monitoring capabilities than low-orbit satellites, which can avoid the trouble of satellite monitoring requiring multiple data comparisons to obtain intelligence.
In recent years, the discovery of suspected high-altitude balloons over various countries has also occurred from time to time.
In June 2020 and September 2021, mysterious balloons appeared over Aomori and Miyagi prefectures in Japan; in January 2022, similar balloons appeared over Port Blair, India; in February 2022, the Taiwan government called Taichung City There are many balloons flying over the sky, which are believed to come from mainland China and are used for meteorological scientific research; in February 2022, high-altitude balloons also appeared in Hawaii, the United States. The United States dispatched F-22 to take off to respond, but the United States has not yet indicated the source of the balloons Where did it come from? In December 2022, someone in Luzon, Philippines also pointed out a suspected high-altitude balloon object in the sky, and the photos were widely circulated on social media.
It can be seen from these rather intensive occurrences of mysterious high-altitude balloon events that the development and application of high-altitude balloons has become a popular trend.
Therefore, it is normal for balloons to become a topic of discussion in the military observation circle again.
As the situation of China-U.S. military competition becomes more and more obvious, intelligence surveillance between the two sides will naturally become more and more frequent. There are nearly 600 sorties.
If every time there is an incident of intelligence surveillance by the other side, the official publicizes it, it will only make the already tense relationship between China and the United States more and more difficult to manage reasonably.
The United States accuses suspected spy balloons of crossing the border Beijing: We are verifying and urge both sides to deal with it calmly and carefully. The United States claims that it has discovered a suspected Chinese spy balloon. Canada says it detected suspected spy balloon