Chinese spy balloon shot down off coast of South Carolina


Photo courtesy of Chase Doak (CC BY-SA 4.0)

A Chinese spy balloon, like the one shown above, was shot down by a U.S. fighter jet on Feb. 4. Such balloons from China have flown over military sites worldwide.

A large, high-altitude white air balloon alleged by the U.S. government to be engaged in Chinese surveillance was spotted over North America from Jan. 28 to Feb. 4. The spy balloon crossed Alaska, parts of Canada and then went back into the continental United States until it was finally shot down over the Atlantic Ocean. While it is still unclear what the exact purpose of the balloon was, it has ultimately had a negative impact on relations between the U.S. and China, even postponing a long-anticipated visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken to Beijing. 

The U.S. Department of Defense and the Canadian Department of National Defense reported that the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) spotted a surveillance balloon believed to belong to China, according to a Feb. 2 NBC article. The instrument panels were estimated to be the size of about three school buses. Even though the U.S. government identified the balloon earlier when it was flying over Alaska, it was first reported to the public when it was flying over Billings, Mont., an area known for its many nuclear warheads.

The balloon continued to fly across the country until it was spotted again in Missouri, drifted to North Carolina and finally over the Atlantic Ocean. Temporary flight restrictions were set in surrounding areas, and when it was safe to do so, a fighter jet shot down the balloon. It was the first downing of an aircraft over U.S. territory since World War II, according to a Feb. 5 CBS article.

Throughout this process, the Chinese government maintained that America was overreacting, claiming that the object in the sky was simply a weather balloon, according to a Feb. 3 CNN article.

The U.S. government, facing criticism that the reaction time of shooting down the balloon was too slow, claimed that it would be irresponsible to shoot down the balloon due to the possibility of harming civilians on the ground. 

Once the balloon was down, the search for the debris was immediate. The U.S. government recovered most of the balloon debris and found propellers that appear to oppose the claim by the Chinese government that the balloon went off course, according to a Feb. 3 Reuters article. The U.S. government also believes that the balloon carried explosives that were intended for self-destruction. The Chinese government has since asked for the balloon debris back since it is their property, but according to the Pentagon’s Spokesperson, the U.S. government has no plan to do so.

Photo Credit: “Chinese surveillance balloon over Billings” by Chase Doak is licensed under (CC BY-SA 4.0)