March 24, 2023

The Pentagon’s rejection of China’s claim that a balloon hovering over nuclear sites in the United States is a “civil” airship raises further questions about its surveillance capabilities.

Analysts predict that the balloon will be about the size of “three buses” and could be equipped with high-tech equipment, including cameras, sensors and radar.

The use of balloons to conduct espionage missions dates back to the Cold War, but modern systems can take advantage of the latest advances in surveillance technology.

The balloon hovered about 60,000 feet above the center of the continental United States around noon ET Friday, the Pentagon said. The balloon’s path had taken it over Montana, raising fears that it was collecting information on nuclear missile sites in the state.

China claimed on Friday morning that it is a civilian balloon used for meteorological and weather research. But at a briefing at the Pentagon a few hours later, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said, “We know it’s a surveillance balloon.”

The Chinese surveillance balloon is estimated to be about the width of three buses. The balloon is equipped with solar panels to power the onboard equipment, including long-range cameras and radar. It flew at an altitude of about 60,000 feet on Friday afternoon, but the balloons could reach heights of about double that

The Balloon Is Believed To Have Launched From Mainland China Before Traversing Alaska And Canada And Then Reaching The Mainland United States

The balloon is believed to have launched from mainland China before traversing Alaska and Canada and then reaching the mainland United States

Disturbingly, defense analysts have previously claimed that a balloon could be used as a “delivery platform” for nuclear weapons.

A 2015 report for the American Leadership & Policy Foundation said balloons launched by rogue states could carry nuclear payloads over the United States, leading to launch attacks or disrupting the power grid.

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Report author Air Force Major David Stuckenberg wrote, “Using a balloon as a (Weapon of Mass Destruction) platform could provide adversaries with a pallet of heights and payload options that would allow them to maximize offensive effects against the US.

‘A high-altitude balloon can be designed, made and launched in a matter of months. Nothing prevents hundreds of kilograms of weapon material from being delivered at height.’

Stuckenberg said Friday that China’s balloon was “probably some kind of dry run, intended to send a strategic message to the US.”

The size of the balloon currently hovering over the US is about the equivalent of three bus lengths, defense expert John Parachini said.

Assuming a typical canister is about 40 feet long, this suggests that the spherical balloon could be about 400 feet by 120 feet. That would match the dimensions of other balloons used for high-altitude operations.

The Balloon Was About 60,000 Feet Above The Center Of The United States, Around Missouri'S Kansas City, On Friday Afternoon.

The balloon was about 60,000 feet above the center of the United States, around Missouri’s Kansas City, on Friday afternoon.

Brigadier General Patrick Ryder Told A Pentagon Press Conference: 'We Know It'S A Surveillance Balloon'

Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told a Pentagon press conference: ‘We know it’s a surveillance balloon’

Footage taken from the ground shows a device attached to the balloon equipped with large solar panels, which power the onboard monitoring equipment and also a system to maneuver the balloon.

The Pentagon has said the balloon is “maneuverable,” though it’s not clear how well it can be controlled. Jet streams at such high altitudes make it extremely difficult to control the balloon’s path. China has also claimed that the balloon ended up over the US due to its limited steering ability.

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Equipment mounted on such a spy balloon likely includes a long-range camera and radar to determine the presence and movement of objects that are more difficult to detect.

Such a balloon would also be equipped with a communication device that can send findings back to the controller in real time.

Interestingly, officials believe the balloon is no more effective than Chinese satellites that could also be used to monitor the United States.

Chinese spy satellites carry similar sensors to what US officials think are on the spy balloon, raising questions about why Beijing would attempt such a bold act on the eve of Blinken’s now-delayed visit.

Still, the Chinese spy balloon has taken a flight path that would take it over some sensitive locations, officials say. One such site could be military bases, including in Montana, where there are intercontinental ballistic missile silos.

A Pentagon official said, “Clearly they are trying… to fly this balloon over sensitive locations… to collect information.”

A Missile Warning Facility Near Belt, Montana. Officials Feared The Spy Balloon Could Be Used To Collect Information About Nuclear Sites In The State As It Hovered Overhead

A missile warning facility near Belt, Montana. Officials feared the spy balloon could be used to collect information about nuclear sites in the state as it hovered overhead

The Balloon Was Discovered Days Before A Scheduled Meeting Between Us Secretary Of State Antony Blinken And Chinese President Xi Jinping

The balloon was discovered days before a scheduled meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese President Xi Jinping

Billings, Montana, airport issued a ground halt Wednesday as the military mobilized resources, including F-22 fighter jets in case Biden ordered the balloon shot down.

The balloon is believed to have arrived over the mainland US after flying over the Aleutian Islands in the North Pacific and then crossing Canadian airspace into the United States.

One model suggests it will likely drift further into the Midwest. It had reached Missouri by Friday afternoon. But the nature of the device and changing weather make longer-term predictions difficult.

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Military chiefs considered shooting it down — and President Joe Biden was reportedly enthusiastic about the idea — but decided against it because of the security risk. The prospect is not entirely ruled out.

1675457354 815 Chinas Spy Balloon Could Be 120Ft Helium Powered Airship Equipped With

“Montana plays a vital national security role by hosting nuclear missile silos at Malmstrom AFB,” Senator Steve Daines wrote in a letter to the Pentagon, raising the alarm

Malmstrom Air Force Base Is Located In Cascade County, Montana, Usa. It Is Located About Seven Miles From The Great Falls And Is Home To The 341St Missile Wing

Malmstrom Air Force Base is located in Cascade County, Montana, USA. It is located about seven miles from the Great Falls and is home to the 341st Missile Wing

The balloon is so large that destroying it would rain debris and endanger the safety of people on the ground, US officials said.

China’s claims that the balloon is a civilian weather-measuring device are not entirely unfounded — though they have been rejected by the Pentagon. Weather balloons, which can be similar in shape, size and appearance, are common tools for meteorological research.

China has sent more such spy balloons over the United States in recent years, the senior Pentagon official said.

The official did not share details, but indicated that the flights had already been discovered in former President Donald Trump’s records.

However, according to the official, this is the first time a Chinese balloon has been in US airspace for an extended period of time.

It is also believed to be the first time such a balloon has traveled across the central United States. Past raids include a balloon that briefly hovered over Florida, and others discovered near Hawaii and Guam.