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What is a spy balloon and why does the supposed detection of one of Chinese origin in the United States raise alarms?

2023-02-04T19:43:20.000Z

The first use of these artifacts dates back to 1794, and since then they have been used by different countries, especially in times of war. What dangers does the Chinese spy balloon that the US said it detected on its territory imply and why does it raise tension between the two countries?



The news that the United States detected on its territory this Thursday what is presumed to be a Chinese spy balloon has shaken the already vulnerable diplomatic relations between the two countries.

So much so that Secretary of State Antony Blinken called off a visit to China scheduled for next week, despite the Chinese Foreign Ministry's assurance on Friday that the balloon was a "civil aircraft" used for meteorological research that had diverted from its route, that it had no intention of entering foreign airspace, and that China regretted its “involuntary entry” into the United States.

Blinken would meet with Qin Gang, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and possibly with President Xi Jinping, on a trip that sought to prevent further deterioration of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“We are going to take care of it,” the president, Joe Biden, responded briefly, when asked this Saturday if they would shoot down the balloon.

But, if China claimed that it was a "mistake" of the wind, why is the presence of this balloon so alarming?

What is a spy balloon and since when has it been flying over US territory?

A balloon the size of three school buses

US authorities, including the Pentagon, have specified that the balloon has an estimated size of about three school buses and that it flies over 18,600 meters (60,000 feet) of altitude.

[The Pentagon detects another "spy" balloon from China, this time over Latin America]

The United States has confirmed that it is a spy device that China uses to monitor and collect intelligence data, although

it does not pose a military or physical threat, since it does not carry weapons

, Brigadier General Pat Ryder, press secretary, said Thursday. of the Pentagon.

The Pentagon detects a possible spy balloon from China that has been flying over the US for days

Feb 3, 202300:28

Ryder explained that, after detecting it on Wednesday, "the US government acted immediately to protect itself against the collection of sensitive information."

The device flew over the state of Montana where there are nuclear warhead silos

and is still in US territory without specifying where.

How did you get to the US?

China, for its part, has insisted that it is a civilian roving device incapable of "self-steering", used for meteorological research, which was blown off course by the wind.

The Pentagon replied that it is maneuverable and has shown that it can change course, in addition to having sensors and surveillance equipment.

Dan Jaffe, professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of Washington, explained to The Associated Press news agency that the Chinese theory of wind is still possible.

[China Admits Suspected Spy Balloon Flying Over US Is Its, But Says It's a Drifted Weather Blimp]

"This is entirely consistent with what we know about winds," Jaffe said.

“Transit time from China to the United States would be around a week.”

Jaffe studies how wind patterns have brought air pollution from Chinese cities, smoke from fires in Siberia and dust from sandstorms in the Gobi desert to the United States.

According to him, the steering capacity of weather balloons depends on their sophistication, and can be total or limited.

Military leaders discuss whether the alleged Chinese spy balloon poses a threat to the US.

Feb 3, 202302:23

John Parachini, international and defense researcher at RAND, a non-profit corporation, told USA Today that the device likely has a communications system that guides it, adjusting its flight based on the speed and direction of the wind.

Parachini insisted that, given the impossibility of boarding the balloon,

it is difficult to verify China's claim that it is a civilian vehicle

.

And even if it is, that doesn't mean it doesn't collect useful information for military purposes, he said.

If it is intentional, what is China's message?

Even if unarmed, the balloon would pose a risk to the United States, John Ferrari, a retired Army general and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told the AP.

According to Ferrari,

it tests the US ability to find threats

and holes in the air defense warning system.

Chinese intelligence could also detect electromagnetic emissions that serve to understand how different weapons systems communicate.

Also, the expert said, it is possible that China sent the balloon to send a message: "To show us that it can do it and maybe next time it could have a weapon."

The balloon over Billings, Montana, in images taken on February 1. Chase Doak / AFP - Getty Images

John Blaxland, professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University, explained to the British outlet The Guardian that the Chinese were likely hoping to be discovered and one of their goals would be to embarrass the United States while obtaining intelligence information.

Another message would be to show that they keep an eye on this type of technology and have been replicating it.

China has already flown stratospheric balloons like this over the United States, the difference is that now it

 has stayed over the country longer than usual,

an intelligence source assured NBC News, sister network of Noticias Telemundo.

Why don't they tear it down?

This Thursday, when the news of its detection was made public, government officials assured that one of the first options considered was to demolish the device.

This alternative was discarded due to the risks it would imply for the safety of people on the ground.

[USA.

monitors a possible spy balloon from China that has flown over the national territory for days]

According to an official quoted by AP, the balloon's sensors alone weigh up to 1,000 pounds.

Due to the size of the device, if it were shot down, it could spread debris for several kilometers without being able to control where it would land.

Others like Jim Himes, the top Democratic congressman on the House Intelligence Committee, have proposed capturing it for study.

"I'd rather have a Chinese surveillance balloon than be clearing one out of a 100-square-mile debris field," he suggested.

Since when are they used?

Spy balloons have been used by governments for more than a century, mainly in times of war, Thomas Paone, curator at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, told The New York Times. 

Its first recorded use was in 1794, in France,

during the Battle of Fleurus, according to the United States' Centennial Commission of Flight.

They were occupied during the American Civil War to observe troop movements.

Also during the First World War.

US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the G20 summit on November 14, 2022 in Bali, Indonesia.

Alex Brandon/AP

"When an observation balloon goes up, it can see everything you've done or everything you're trying to hide from the enemy," Paone said.

During World War II Japan sent 9,000 of these with bombs over the United States.

According to military research documents and studies consulted by AP, the United States began using giant strings of balloons and sensors to detect Soviet missile launches in the postwar period.

Now they are equipped with video cameras and sensors.

The United States has used them in Afghanistan and Iraq during the wars there.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2023-02-04

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