China’s Spy Threat? Why China’s Use of a Balloon to Penetrate U.S. Airspace

The Pentagon has reported spotting a suspicious China balloon a size of three buses flying over the United States, while China has stated that it is only a weather balloon that entered the US by accident, but the US military remains confident that it is on a spy mission!

The US China Today will provide insights into the Pentagon’s approach towards the recently detected suspicious China balloon, and reveal the experts’ prediction on reasons behind China’s choice of using a balloon for surveillance rather than a satellite.

According to Pentagon spokesperson, Brigadier General Pat Ryder, A high-altitude balloon was detected flying over the Billings area in Montana on Wednesday, January 1st.

The balloon’s flight path included a journey over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, through Canada, and finally into Montana.

He said that the United States government has detected and is currently tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the mainland United States, and that they will continue to closely monitor it.

The US has no intention of shooting it down

In response to this situation, the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin immediately gathered for a meeting with several high-ranking military and defense leaders to review the threat posed by a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon.

The meeting included the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, and the Northern Command’s Commander, General Glen VanHerck.

During the meeting, the leaders carefully considered the threat profile of the balloon and various response options.

In the end, they decided not to recommend shooting it out of the sky due to the potential risk to public safety and security, as the debris field from such an action could cause damage to people and structures on the ground.

The decision and recommendations were then presented to President Joe Biden, who had been briefed on the situation. A senior administration official confirmed that Biden received a strong recommendation not to shoot down the balloon.

The US determined that the China balloon did not pose an immediate threat and therefore, it was allowed to continue flying.

Why China Uses a Balloon

But if the US is confident that China balloon is on a spy mission. Why are they using seemingly outdated technology like a balloon?

The US Department of Defense stated that the balloon is located at a significantly higher altitude than where civilian air traffic is operating.

Other experts see even more advanced reasons behind it.

Source :

China expert Benjamin Ho, and Arthur Holland Michel from the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, have the same prediction that China may have even wanted to be spotted in the first place.

Michel said China might be using the balloon to demonstrate that it has a sophisticated technological capability to penetrate US airspace without risking a serious escalation.

According to the BBC, other experts predicted that balloons are less expensive, but able to be equipped with modern technology like spy cameras and radar sensors that are necessary for a spy mission.

Its slower speed allows it to linger and observe the target area for prolonged periods, as opposed to a satellite whose movement is limited to its orbital path.

How did China respond to this incident

On Friday, The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that the balloon was from China and had entered US airspace by accident.

The statement explained that the China balloon was a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes, and had deviated from its planned course due to the weather and limited self-steering capabilities.

China’s spokesperson also expressed regret for the unintentional entry of the airship into US airspace and will continue communicating with The US to properly handle the situation caused by force majeure.

However, The US believes that the Chinese spy satellites in low Earth orbit are capable of providing similar or better intelligence. Therefore limits the value of any information that could be gathered from the high-altitude balloon, which is the size of three buses.

According to a senior defense official, the balloon does not add significant value over what China is able to gather from its satellites in low Earth orbit.

Pentagon spokesperson General Pat Ryder is confident that the China balloon is being used for a spy mission.

At the moment of reporting, the China balloon continues to move eastward at an altitude of around 60,000 feet, with the ability to maneuver, but does not pose any threat to civil aviation yet due to its altitude.

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