The U.S. Air Force shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina on February 4, putting an end to days of controversy, suspicion, and confusion.
According to top U.S. defense and military sources, at 2:39 p.m. Eastern, an F-22 Raptor from the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, shot one AIM-9X Sidewinder at the balloon, forcing it to plummet towards the Atlantic Ocean.
President Joe Biden stated, “I want to commend our aviators for bringing it down successfully.”
According to the Pentagon, F-15s from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts and many tankers joined in the effort. U.S. defense and military officials told reporters that an F-22 fired the Sidewinder from 58,000 feet, striking the balloon at around 60,000 to 65,000 feet. It is the first known air-to-air engagement with an F-22. The shootdown occurred after the United States ordered local airports and airspace to be blocked.
Video of the balloon getting shot down over Myrtle Beach!! pic.twitter.com/nGA5RXA14P
— Jason Sellers (@JasonSellers32) February 4, 2023
“At the direction of President Biden, U.S. fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command successfully shot down the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) high altitude surveillance balloon over the water off the coast of South Carolina in U.S. airspace,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement. The PRC’s surveillance balloon was brought down above U.S. territorial seas.
The Department of Defense spent days attempting to explain how a surveillance asset from its key opponent entered and remained in American skies, even as the U.S. confirmed it was following the balloon that was attempting to spy on sensitive national security locations.
According to a senior defense official, the balloon first entered the U.S. air defence identification zone (ADIZ) near Alaska on January 28, north of the Aleutian Islands, traversing the land extensively.
NORAD has already escorted warplanes out of the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which serves as a protective buffer beyond U.S. airspace.
In spite of U.S. efforts to track it, the balloon continued to fly and entered Canadian airspace on January 30, which is jointly protected by the U.S. and Canada through NORAD, before reentering U.S. airspace in northern Idaho on January 31.
F-22s from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada were scrambled on February 1 in response to a senior defence official’s statement that the United States had considered shooting down a balloon over Montana, where Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of the United States’ nuclear international continental ballistic missile (ICBM) sites, is located.
Due to the balloon’s size, altitude, and surveillance payload, U.S. military officials judged that bringing it down while it was above land would pose an unacceptable risk to a large number of people.
The Pentagon’s refusal to recognise the incident until February 2 — after civilians had observed it over Montana — caused both parties in Congress to express dismay.
The event resulted in the postponement of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s scheduled visit to China on February 3. It would have been the first visit by a cabinet-level official under the Biden administration.
China claimed that the balloon was an off-course meteorological balloon.
“China regrets that the airship strayed into the United States owing to circumstances beyond its control,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement on February 3, referring to a situation beyond its control.
U.S. officials were unconvinced, stating that it was evidently a spy asset, and Austin stated that the balloon’s flight was an “intolerable breach of our sovereignty.”
Moreover, it does not appear to be the first incidence of its kind. Since the Trump administration, Chinese surveillance balloons have penetrated U.S. airspace, although the U.S. had not previously recognised the instances. And the United States has not been the only country attacked.
In recent years, Chinese balloons have been detected over five continents, including East Asia, South Asia, and Europe, according to a senior defense official. According to the Pentagon, another Chinese balloon is now overflying Latin America.
Members of the president’s party have demanded an additional explanation from the administration and the Pentagon while praising Biden’s handling of the matter. Numerous Republicans criticized the government for not having shot down the balloon sooner.
Biden stated that he ordered the balloon to be shot down “as soon as possible” on February 1 but that it was unsafe to do so at the time.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, stated in a February 4 statement, “President Biden took the correct decision to fire down this purported Chinese spy balloon out of range of American civilians and infrastructure.” “I look forward to a comprehensive briefing on the situation and future U.S. plans.”
As the balloon drifted over the Atlantic Ocean, two F-22s from Langley with the callsigns FRANK01 and FRANK02 took it down. The callsigns were a tribute to Lt. Frank Luke Jr., a World War I ace and Medal of Honor recipient, according to a NORTHCOM spokeswoman. Luke earned the nickname “Arizona Balloon Buster” after smashing fourteen German balloons in seventeen days. Arizona’s Luke Air Force Base is named in his honor.
According to the Department of Defense, the Navy and Coast Guard are searching in 47 feet of water six miles off the coast of South Carolina. However the debris might be dispersed over miles. Biden stated, “I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down.” “The optimal time for doing so was when it was over water.”