The US Navy on Tuesday released images of efforts to recover a suspected Chinese spy balloon, which was shot down by US fighter jets over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday.
Pictures from Sunday show sailors from the Navy’s explosive ordnance disposal team hauling debris from the crashed balloon onto a boat. The recovered debris is being taken to the FBI’s laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, for analysis as the United States understands the balloon’s capabilities.
On Monday, General Glenn Van Hurk, commander of the US Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), told reporters that the balloon was about 200 feet tall and had a payload of more than 2,000 pounds.
US authorities had been tracking the balloon for several days before it appeared in the skies over Montana. President Joe Biden said over the weekend that he had directed the US military to shoot down the balloon as soon as possible, but officials said it posed a threat to civilians and property on the ground.
“[F]From a safety perspective, picture yourself with hundreds if not thousands of pounds of large debris falling from the sky. That’s really what we’re talking about,” van Hurk said Monday. “So the glass in solar panels, potentially hazardous materials, like materials that batteries need to operate in that environment. and even the ability to detonate explosives and destroy balloons that might have been present.”
U.S. officials also determined that the balloon posed no significant threat to intelligence-gathering capabilities.
A senior defense official said last week that the balloon had “limited added value” from an intelligence-gathering perspective. Even so, Van Hurk said Monday that he and the commander of U.S. Strategic Command took “extraordinary precautions” to curb China’s intelligence-gathering capabilities.
He added that because the balloon was detected early, the US was able to turn the tables and gather intelligence on the balloon itself.
“[T]It gave us an opportunity to examine what they were actually doing, what kind of capabilities the balloon had, what kind of delivery capabilities it had, and I think you’ll see in the future that they The time frame was able to collect it. Finished,” Van Hurk said.
The balloon was eventually shot down by a single missile from an F-22 fighter jet outside Langley Air Force Base in Virginia on Saturday afternoon. According to Navy photo captions, the operation was conducted by active duty, reserve, National Guard, and civilian personnel.
China, which said the balloon was a weather balloon, immediately criticized the US actions.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said on Sunday that the US “used force to attack our civilian unmanned aerial vehicle, which is a clear overreaction.”
Another statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “the Chinese side has repeatedly informed the US side after confirmation that the aircraft is for civilian use and has entered the US due to force majeure – it is completely But there was an accident.”
However, US officials did not buy China’s explanation. A U.S. military official said the concern over the balloon was not about intelligence gathering, but the “callousness” of the Chinese government.
The situation led to the postponement of a visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blanken, which was expected within days of the balloon sighting.
“In my call with Director Wang Yi today, I made it clear that the presence of this surveillance balloon in US airspace is a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law,” Blanken said. is, and that the decision to take this action on the occasion of my scheduled visit to the (People’s) Republic of China) is detrimental to the substantive discussions we were prepared for.
The Pentagon was also tracking a second balloon found floating over Latin America, which Defense Department spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the assessment was “another Chinese balloon.”
China admitted ownership of the balloon on Monday, saying it had been used for a flight test and had “seriously deviated” from its flight course “by mistake”.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said on Monday that China is a responsible country. “We have always strictly adhered to international law. We have informed all concerned parties and handled the situation in an appropriate manner that poses no threat to any country.
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