US shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon over Atlantic

US shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon over Atlantic

US shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon over Atlantic

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The United States shot down what it says was a Chinese spy balloon on Saturday after the object drifted over the United States for several days and then sailed over the Atlantic Ocean.

“This afternoon, under the direction of President Biden, American warplanes assigned to the North American Command successfully brought down the high-altitude surveillance balloon launched by and belonging to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over- above the waters off the coast of South Carolina in United States airspace,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement.

The US military had been tracking the ball all week, with the Pentagon saying Biden was first briefed on it on Tuesday. The object had been seen over Montana, where several nuclear missile silos are based. While the balloon was above the ground, the Pentagon had advised against shooting it down for fear of the danger of falling debris.

“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,” Austin said in his statement Saturday.

China said on Friday that the balloon was used primarily for weather research and that its entry into US airspace was unintentional. But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the same day his department was “confident” the balloon was being used for surveillance purposes. Blinken has canceled its planned weekend in Beijing.

The destruction of the balloon is the latest development in growing tensions between the United States and China. In October, the Biden administration announced limits on the export of semiconductor technology to China, in an effort to slow the progress of Chinese military programs. And some US lawmakers are pushing to ban popular social media app TikTok, whose parent company is based in China, saying a ban is needed to protect Americans from Chinese espionage and propaganda.

An F-22 Raptor at an airshow in 2021.

US Department of Defense

A Department of Defense report published late Saturday said the balloon was shot down by an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile fired by an F-22 Raptor fighter. When hit, the balloon was at an altitude of between 60,000 and 65,000 feet and fell about six miles offshore in about 50 feet of water, the Department of Defense said. No one was hurt. US Navy and Coast Guard vessels are searching for debris, with no estimate of how long recovery efforts will take.

In a tweet on Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer referenced efforts to recover the downed balloon and its payload. “Now we can collect the equipment and analyze the technology used by” China, the New York Democrat tweeted.

Various videos circulated on social media on Saturday claiming to show the balloon being shot down:


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