Why didn’t the Pentagon shoot down a Chinese spy balloon floating over the United States?

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Defense said Thursday it was monitoring a Chinese suspect surveillance balloon floating above the western state of Montana, underscoring the mutual suspicion between the world’s two largest economies just as top diplomats prepare to hold talks in Beijing. Here’s everything we know so far:
1. What is a surveillance balloon?
Cheap, quiet and hard to hit – balloons have long been used for reconnaissance purposes, including in conflicts like the American Civil War. The practice became widespread during World War I and was widely used during the Cold War, when the United States launched hundreds of balloons to gather intelligence about the Soviet Union and China. Although their use has declined with the rise of drones and unmanned satellites, many countries still use spy balloons. The Pentagon is expanding its investments in high-altitude inflatables, Politico reported last year. Modern balloons are generally unmanned, but they still generally lack propulsion and are subject to wind currents.
2. What do we know about the balloon floating over the United States?
The Biden administration disclosed the existence of the balloon on Thursday, saying it had been spotted earlier in the week and more recently seen floating more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters) above Montana. The location is sensitive, as the state is home to the Air Force’s 341st Missile Wing and its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. Although China has yet to comment on the incident, a Defense Ministry spokesperson said the United States believed it belonged, without explaining why.
3. Is the ball a security threat?
Details on the exact capabilities of this particular balloon are unclear, with a US official who briefed reporters on Thursday declining to answer several questions about its size or specifications. US officials have claimed the balloon has a limited ability to collect meaningful intelligence data, beyond what the Chinese can already collect through their satellite network. The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or Norad, said Thursday it “continues to monitor and monitor it closely,” while Canada’s Department of Defense said it was following up. a “second potential incident”, without giving further details.
4. Why did China send the ball now?
The Chinese have complained for decades about US surveillance by spy ships and planes near their own territory, leading to occasional clashes over the years. And instances of Chinese balloon activity near U.S. territory were seen before Thursday’s announcement, U.S. officials said. But it is unclear why the balloon is flying over the United States at this time. The revelation comes days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned visit to Beijing and risks undermining Beijing’s diplomatic efforts to create a constructive context for the US Secretary of State’s first visit to China since Michael’s trip. Pompeo in 2018.
5. Why didn’t the Pentagon shoot the balloon down?
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin advised President Joe Biden against shooting down the balloon due to the possible risk of falling debris. While authorities were considering this option when the balloon was hovering over sparsely populated areas in Montana, the “significant” object was deemed to be large enough to cause potential damage. It floats well above the altitude used by civilian aircraft, so it is unlikely to pose an immediate danger to the public.
6. How did the United States react?
The senior official said the United States had raised the balloon issue with China, and the Wall Street Journal reported that the State Department had summoned the Chinese charge d’affaires. It was not immediately clear whether the incident would affect Blinken’s planned trip to China. The Biden administration also briefed staff on the “Gang of Eight,” a group that includes the chairmen and high-ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, another official said. Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing Biden for a stronger response, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy calling the incursion a “brazen disregard for American sovereignty.”


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