A United States F-22 fighter jet shot down a Chinese high-altitude balloon that was flying over the United States. The US military officials claim the object was a surveillance balloon used for spying on US military sites. China denies the balloon was used for spying.
An F-22 Raptor fighter fired one AIM-9X Sidewinder missile at the balloon when it was flying over water off the coast of South Carolina, the US Department of Defense (DoD) announced in a statement dated February 4, 2023.
The Sidewinder was fired at the balloon from an altitude of 58,000 feet. The balloon at the time was between 60,000 and 65,000 feet. The US military also deployed F-15 Eagles and multiple tankers to support the F-22 during the mission.
The Navy has deployed the destroyer USS Oscar Austin, the cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the USS Carter Hall, an amphibious landing ship in support of the effort, according to the DoD. Canadian forces also helped track the overflight of the balloon, the US military said without clarifying how.
The high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected flying over the United States on January 28, 2023. After entering the US airspace, the airship traversed to Canada before coming back to the US.
Initially, the US defense officials observed the object with the US Air Force Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers but advised against shooting the balloon down to prevent debris from falling and posing safety threats. However, the Department of Defense now says that US President Joe Biden ordered the shot down on February 1, 2023, but the action was delayed until the balloon was over water off the coast of South Carolina.
Fling and spying? Civilian weather airship or Chinese spy balloon
“The balloon, which was being used by the PRC in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States, was brought down above U.S. territorial waters,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in a written statement on February 4, 2023.
While the Chinese foreign ministry has admitted that the balloon was indeed Chinese, it maintains that the object entered the US airspace due to force majeure.
“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said on February 3, 2023.
The US dismissed the weather balloon explanation, claiming that it was a spy balloon.
“This was a PRC surveillance balloon,” Austin said in a statement. “This surveillance balloon purposely traversed the United States and Canada, and we are confident it was seeking to monitor sensitive military sites.”
A Chinese balloon was detected flying over the United States just a few days before a planned US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing with a view to meeting China’s president Xi Jinping.
The Secretary’s visit was scheduled to take place between February 5 and 6, 2023. However, in response to the events, Blinken’s planned trip to China was postponed, senior US State Department officials revealed on February 3, 2023.