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  • Writer's pictureSean Behling

Chinese Balloons and Other Airborne Objects Spotted Over America

On January 28th, 2023, a mysterious Chinese balloon entered American airspace, floated around through both American and Canadian airspace before being shot down on February 4th. Another balloon from China was also spotted over Latin America, floating through Caribbean airspace on February 3rd. China has denied accusations that these balloons are intended for spying and surveillance purposes, claiming that they are meant to monitor the weather or be used in flight tests and simply flew off course. Due to these balloons, as well as other, unidentified high-altitude objects, tensions between America and China appear to be rising.

Photo Courtesy of Chase Doak on Wikimedia Commons

After the first balloon was spotted crossing over the United States, President Biden gave the order to shoot it down three days later on February 1st. However, in order to protect American citizens from the risk of falling debris, the military waited to shoot it down until February 4th, when it was off the coast of South Carolina. According to a U.S. official, the balloon’s payload was located off the coast of South Carolina on February 13th (ABC News). According to Fox News, The Pentagon does not believe that this balloon was simply an off-course weather balloon, as there was no “force majeure”(or greater force) that could have propelled it off-course.

A second balloon was also spotted floating over Latin America a few days later on February 3rd. On February 6th, China claimed the balloon was theirs, stating that it was used for flight tests and that it “‘deviated greatly’ from its intended route, citing the aircraft's ‘limited maneuverability’ and the weather conditions” (BBC). The Colombian air force followed the object as it floated into and out of their airspace, stating that it didn’t represent a threat to national security.

Photo courtesy of osunpokeh on Wikimedia Commons This diagram shows the relative size of the first Chinese balloon that was spotted. The payload of the balloon was estimated to be the size of three buses.

After the first balloon was shot down, China was furious, stating that it was “a clear overreaction” and “a serious violation of international practice.” In fact, China accused the United States of flying spy balloons through Chinese airspace over ten times since the beginning of 2022. These allegations, however, have been denied by officials at the White House (ABC NEWS).

Since the initial balloons, there have been more airborne objects shot down over American airspace than one might expect. One of these was an object roughly the size of a small car, shot down off the northeastern coast of Alaska on February 10th. The unmanned object was shot down because it flew lower than the balloons did (at a height of around 40,000 feet) and therefore posed a threat to civilian air traffic (Washington Post).

Another high-altitude object, supposedly cylindrical in nature, was shot down on February 11th over Canada’s Yukon Territory. The object was first spotted by NORAD personnel in the evening of the day before, being shot down after a conversation between the Canadian Defense Minister, Anita Anand, and the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin. The debris for both of these objects is being recovered to hopefully shed light on their purpose and countries of origin.

As a result of this difficult situation, disagreement appears to be growing between China and America, with the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, even indefinitely postponed his high-stakes trip to China as a result. As tensions escalate, only time will tell where this road might lead.

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