A US military fighter plane downed a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday. This came a week after it initially entered American airspace and started speculations around Chinese spy attempts that deteriorated Sino-US ties.
Although the Pentagon advised observing the balloon till it remained over open water to protect civilians from debris falling to Earth from thousands of feet above commercial air traffic, President Joe Biden said to have given the order to shoot the balloon on Wednesday.
He said, “They successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it.”
One F-22 fighter plane from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia fired the shot at 19:39 GMT (23:39 MUT) with a lone AIM-9X supersonic, heat-seeking air-to-air missile, according to a senior US military official. Multiple fighter and refueling aircraft were part of the mission.
According to US officials, the balloon was shot down over relatively shallow water around six nautical miles off the American coast of the Atlantic Ocean. This could help efforts to recover pieces of the Chinese spying equipment in the following days.
The debris field, according to a U.S. military officer, covered seven miles (11 km) of ocean, and several US military vessels were present.
The balloon was brought down shortly after the United States government banned flights into and out of Wilmington, Myrtle Beach, and Charleston airports in South Carolina due to an unspecified “national security action,” according to the authorities at the time. On Saturday afternoon, flights started up again.
China, US clash over spy balloon
China vehemently denounced the military action on an airship that it said was utilized for meteorological and other scientific purposes and that had “totally accidentally” wandered into American airspace, claims that were categorically denied by American officials.
Clarifying the Chinese stand, in a statement, on giving instructions about handling the situation, the foreign ministry said, “China had clearly asked the US to handle this properly in a calm, professional and restrained manner. The US had insisted on using force, obviously overreacting.”
The US is of the view that the balloon was keeping an eye on secret military locations.
The Chinese government argued that it was a meteorological ship that got lost rather than being employed for espionage.
Former US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen stated on Sunday that he believed the Chinese military may have deliberately released the balloon to obstruct Mr. Blinken’s visit to China. The last high-level US-China summit there had been years before his visit.
China suggested it may have veered off course, but Adm Mullen denied this and claimed it was manoeuvrable since “it has propellers on it.”
“This was not an accident. This was deliberate. It was intelligence,” he added.
According to a senior administration official, the US government personally discussed the action with China after shooting down the balloon. According to the individual, the State Department also briefed allies and partners globally.
US searches for wreckage
The wreckage of the Chinese surveillance balloon is currently being recovered by US Navy divers.
Former America’s senior military official stated that he anticipated it to occur very fast so that experts could start analyzing its technology.
On January 28, the balloon entered Alaskan airspace of the United States, and on January 30, it entered Canadian territory. On January 31, it later re-entered American airspace over northern Idaho, according to a US defense official. It did not return to open waters after crossing over American territory, making a shootdown challenging.