Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C., Feb. 5, 2023. U.S. fighter aircraft under U.S. Northern Command authority engaged and brought down the balloon within sovereign U.S. airspace and over U.S. territorial waters on Feb. 4. Active-duty, Reserve, National Guard and civilian personnel planned and executed the operation, and partners from the Coast Guard, Federal Aviation Administration and FBI ensured public safety throughout the operation and recovery efforts. Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tyler Thompson.
Tensions were heightened between the United States and China this week after a Chinese surveillance balloon was spotted flying across the U.S. late last week. Since then, U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has cancelled his visit to China.
The balloon was first spotted on Feb. 2, entering United States airspace through Alaska but was shot down on Feb. 4 by the United States fighter aircraft under U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) off the coast of South Carolina.
Balloon Crossed into Canadian Air Space
After first entering Alaska, the balloon flew south, transiting through Canadian air space before flying back into the U.S.
“While the object was moving, analysis ruled out the possibility the balloon posed an imminent threat and further steps were taken to analyze it in collaboration with the U.S. and NORAD.
“Through this collaboration, Canada and the U.S. jointly decided to publicize the presence of the balloon at an appropriate time, taking into account operational security,” stated a spokesperson from the Department of National Defence.
After the balloon was detected, the Department of National Defence issued statements to assure the public that they were safe.
“Canadians are safe and Canada is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident,” stated a press release from DND on Feb. 2, 2023.
Gen. Glen VanHerck, Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command, noted in a statement on Feb. 2. the High-Altitude Surveillance Balloon did not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground at the time as the balloon was travelling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic.
Minister of National Defence Responds
Over the weekend, after the United States brought the balloon down Minister of National Defence, Anita Anand, issued a statement.
“Officials in the national security community have been working bi-nationally and Canada has been closely engaged with its U.S. counterparts on the decision and unequivocally supports the actions taken. Canada thanks the United States for its close collaboration,” stated Anand.
According to the statement, both the minister and the Prime Minister were briefed on the operation to bring the balloon down by the National Security and Intelligence Advisor and the Chief of the Defence Staff.
Balloon Recovery Taking Place
The U.S. Navy conducted recovery operations to retrieve the remainder of evidence. According to a further statement issued by VanHerck on Feb. 4, 2023, the balloon was brought down, with direction from President Biden, within sovereign U.S. air space and U.S. territorial waters.
“American and Canadian personnel from all three North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) regions tracked the surveillance balloon, and USNORTHCOM’s U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy service components integrated to successfully down the balloon and are working to recover the balloon and payload.
“Active duty, Reserve, National Guard, and civilian personnel planned and executed the operation, and partners from the U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Aviation Administration, and Federal Bureau of Investigation ensured public safety throughout the operation and recovery efforts,” stated the General.
China Defends Balloon
China has expressed concern and strongly disagreed with the United States’ decision to shoot the balloon down. China’s Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng reached out to the United States Embassy to express the country’s concerns.
“What the U.S. has done has seriously impacted and damaged both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilizing bilateral relations since the Bali meeting [between leaders of both countries in November],” the statement read.
According to the Chinese, the balloon strayed into the U.S. because of “force majeure,” and it was not deliberate.
On Feb. 8, 2023, The New York Times reported American intelligence agencies had assessed China’s spy balloon program.
“The balloon flights, some officials believe, are part of an effort by China to hone its ability to gather data about American military bases — in which it is most interested — as well as those of other nations in the event of a conflict or rising tensions,” stated The New York Times article.
Since the first balloon was discovered, an additional balloon was spotted flying over Latin American airspace.