US shoots down Chinese spy balloon off Carolinas
“They decided the best time to do it was when it was going over water,” Biden said.
“On Wednesday, President Biden gave his authorization to shoot down the surveillance balloon as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives below the path of the balloon,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement. “After careful analysis, U.S. military commanders determined that shooting down the balloon while it was over land posed an undue risk to people in a wide area due to the size and altitude. of the balloon and its surveillance payload.”
The FAA restricted airspace over three cities in the Carolinas on Saturday after Biden promised ‘we’ll take care of it’ during a layover in Syracuse, NY
Later Saturday, Biden smiled and gave reporters a thumbs-up when asked if the United States would shoot the ball down, as he boarded Air Force One at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in New York.
The FAA said flights to and from Wilmington, Myrtle Beach International and Charleston International airports were resuming Saturday afternoon.
“Other airspace has been reopened. Normal operations are resuming,” a spokesperson said.
US officials began tracking the balloon over US territory on January 28, when it was seen over Alaska, according to a senior defense official. It then entered Canadian airspace on January 30 and re-entered US airspace over northern Idaho on January 31.
The president asked for options on Tuesday, the official said. On Wednesday, Austin summoned the head of US Northern Command, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and other top leaders to discuss the way forward.
While the DoD had a “window of fire” to bring the balloon down over Montana, military commanders “just didn’t feel like we could reduce the risk on earth enough,” the person said.
Defense officials estimated that the debris could fall within a radius of at least seven miles, a senior military official said, so the decision was made to wait.
Under the president’s direction, the Pentagon has been developing options to bring the balloon “safely down over our territorial waters, while closely monitoring its trajectory and intelligence-gathering activities,” Austin said.
On Friday night, Biden was briefed on the ball-shooting plan and approved it, according to a senior administration official.
On Saturday, an F-22 stealth fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base, Va., fired a single AIM-9X air-to-air missile that brought down the balloon, the senior defense official said. The mission was supported by F-15s from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts and tankers from several locations.
It was “the first available opportunity to successfully bring down the surveillance balloon in a way that would not pose a threat to the safety of Americans,” the official said.
There is no indication that people, civilian aircraft or maritime vessels were injured in any way.
The United States will now work to recover all debris and material of intelligence value from the balloon. Several U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard vessels are in the area to help with the recovery mission, the senior military official said. The debris is in just 47 feet of water, which will make recovery “pretty easy, actually,” the person said.
As the Pentagon worked to bring down the balloon, officials also took steps to protect against the balloon’s ability to collect sensitive information, the person said. Its flight path took it over sensitive military installations.
The flight of the balloon also had intelligence value for the United States, the official noted.
“I can’t go into more detail but we were able to study and scrutinize the ball and its equipment,” the person said.
The mission was closely coordinated with the Canadian government, Austin noted.
Late Saturday, China called the shooting a “serious violation of international practice” and threatened repercussions. China has denied using the balloon to spy on the United States, saying it was a civilian airship used to monitor the weather that veered off course due to unexpected wind.
U.S. officials spoke directly with Chinese officials after the operation, according to the senior administration official. The State Department has also briefed its allies and partners around the world.
The presence of the balloon has further strained an already strained US-China relationship, and a public shooting down of the ship is unlikely to improve ties. Still, it will help Biden on the domestic political front, where he faces calls, especially from Republicans, to be even tougher on Beijing.
Throughout the week, lawmakers had called on Biden to address the potential threat, along with the senator. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who chairs the panel that oversees the Pentagon’s budget, calling the balloon a “clear threat” to national security.
Saturday, Senator. Tim Scott (RS.C.) said in a statement: “The balloon should have been shot down before crossing the continental United States, not after. We still do not know what information was collected and where it was sent. It was Biden’s dereliction of duty, and let’s hope the American people don’t pay the price.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said, “I applaud our military for successfully completing a mission to neutralize a spy balloon sent by the Chinese Communist Party. I remain deeply concerned about the Biden administration’s decision to allow the spy balloon to cross the United States.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader chuck schumer praised the actions of the president. “I strongly condemn President Xi’s brazen incursion into American airspace, and commend President Biden’s leadership in lowering the Chinese balloon over water to ensure the safety of all Americans. Now, we can recover the equipment and analyze the technology used by the CCP.
This is not the first time a Chinese spy balloon has entered US airspace, the Pentagon official said, noting at least three times during the previous administration and once at the start of this administration – but never for that long.
“It was a PRC surveillance balloon,” a senior administration official said. “This surveillance balloon voluntarily crossed the United States and Canada and we are convinced that it was seeking to monitor sensitive military sites. Its route over the United States near many potentially sensitive sites contradicts the PRC government’s explanation that it is a weather balloon.
“This is not the only PRC surveillance balloon operating in the Western Hemisphere. A second balloon that has been observed transiting Central and South America is another PRC surveillance balloon. In fact, these balloons are all part of a PRC balloon fleet developed to conduct surveillance operations, which also violated the sovereignty of other countries,” the official added.
News of the balloon led to a discussion among State Department and agency leaders within the administration about whether to cancel Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned visit to Beijing this weekend. Ultimately, the decision was made to postpone, not cancel, though it’s unclear when Blinken will go now.
Adam Cancryn, Oriana Pawlyk and Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.