Chinese balloon shot down by US. Here’s what we know

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A A US fighter jet shot down a suspected Chinese spy over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, ending a three-day standoff that dominated headlines and created an international incident.

The operation took place under the direction of President Joe Biden in the US airfield while the balloon was moving over the water. Senior defense officials said the balloon was successfully brought down with one shot at 2:39 p.m. “I told them to shoot it down,” Biden told reporters, at a travel stop in Hagertown, Md.

Descent of the large, slow balloon over the ocean reduced the risk of falling debris causing damage or casualties, a concern of military commanders earlier this week as it moved east. across the country. Biden said he authorized the US military to bring down the alleged surveillance balloon on Wednesday with orders to shoot it down once there was no longer any fear of endangering Americans on the ground.

“Our only major concern was how we can bring this down, without creating an unacceptable risk to people or property,” a senior defense official told reporters.

The Federal Aviation Administration banned airspace Saturday afternoon over three cities in North and South Carolina as military assets moved into position. The balloon was flying at about 60,000 feet, an altitude about twice that of normal air traffic. After the unmanned balloon was shot down, US officials say, the US Navy and Coast Guard have sent several vessels to recover the wreckage to get views of it its patrol payload – what is described as a basket of equipment under the craft.

The debris is spread over a seven-mile area in the Atlantic Ocean at a depth of about 47 feet, officials said. The exact length of the recovery mission is not known at this time, officials said, but it is expected to take days rather than weeks or months. “We will make sure that we are working closely with the FBI on that chain of custody,” the official said.

The Pentagon has not said what kind of spy technology the Chinese balloon carries, only that the “massive payload” does not give China additional surveillance capabilities beyond what it can already muster. through spy satellites that are currently orbiting the Earth.

The balloon never posed a threat to the safety of Americans, but it did fly over sensitive sites, which defense officials say gave them new insights into the balloon’s true mission. “We’ve learned technical things about this balloon and its surveillance capabilities,” the official said. “And I suspect that if we’re successful in recovering some of the debris, we’ll learn even more.”

The Chinese government confirmed its ownership of the giant balloon on Friday, insisting it was only a “civilian aircraft” used for weather research that accidentally entered US airspace . The Pentagon has denied this false image, saying the plane is just the latest in a series of Chinese balloons that have flown over the US and other countries. gathering information from the air.

Read more: The Chinese balloon looks nothing like a weather balloon, experts say

The US military traced the balloon’s flight path over the Aleutian Islands and Alaska last Saturday, then through Canada on Monday, and finally into the United States over Idaho on Tuesday, officials said. Biden asked the Pentagon to come up with options regarding the balloon and the military considered shooting it down on Wednesday as it traveled over Montana. The state is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of three bases that maintain nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile ranges. In the end, military commanders advised against attempting a fire out of fear that such an operation could create falling debris that would endanger people on the ground.

Biden gave the military the green light to drop him as soon as it was safe. News of the balloon’s presence over the US came late Thursday when the Pentagon said it was monitoring it while denouncing the Chinese government for illegally entering airspace. American air. On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a trip to Beijing hours before he was due to leave, underscoring how seriously the White House views what happened. Blinken would have been the highest-ranking Biden Administration official to visit China and the first US secretary of state to travel to Beijing in six years.

Meanwhile, the balloon continued to drift gently over the middle of the US, causing Midwesterners to crane their necks in hopes of catching a glimpse of the giant white plane as it flew overhead. Republicans in Congress took notice and called for him to be fired. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy requested a briefing for the “Gang of Eight,” a binary term for Republican and Democratic congressional leaders who are briefed on classified intelligence matters by the executive branch.

On Saturday, the balloon reached the east coast and the US military had sent in attack aircraft. The Air Force scrambled F-22 stealth fighter jets from Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton Va., along with F-15 fighter jets from Barnes National Guard Base in Westfield, Mass. In the evening, officials said, one of the F-22s climbed to an altitude of about 58,000 feet, firing an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile toward the balloon hovering less than 10,000 feet above.

The supersonic, eye-warming, air-to-air missile screamed across the Atlantic, bending the balloon and sending it into the sea.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that the shooting down was legal and proper, as it was sent into American airspace “to monitor strategic sites in the continental United States.” ” Austin said that all actions were done in coordination with the Canadian government, which helped to monitor and monitor the balloon while it was moving North America. However, it is not yet clear how much diplomatic damage was done over this incident and whether military actions or a show of force were needed to advance in a more controversial time.

“I want to add to our flights that he’s done,” Biden said after he finished. “And we’ll have more to report on this a little later.”

—With reporting by Anisha Kohli

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