Chinese balloon was 200 feet tall with thousands of pounds of payload: US Air Force General

The suspected Chinese spy balloon which entered the United States’ airspace before being shot down by Washington was approximately 200 feet tall, while the payload under it weighed a couple of thousand pounds, said Air Force General Glen VanHerck, on Monday (February 5). Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard also imposed a temporary security zone off the coast of South Carolina as the military continues to search for the debris. 

The head of the US North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Northern Command (NORCOM) also said, “From a safety standpoint, picture yourself with large debris weighing hundreds if not thousands of pounds falling out of the sky…That’s really what we’re kind of talking about.” 

He also noted how the high-altitude spy balloons briefly flew over the US at least three times in the past six years undetected which he referred to as a “domain awareness gap that we have to figure out.” However, no additional information including where over the US did the previous balloons fly was disclosed. 

Addressing a press conference, the air force general also spoke about the potential hazards including the glass on its solar panels, materials that are required for batteries to operate in such an environment, and even the “potential for explosives to detonate”. He added, “Anytime you down something like this, we make an assumption that that potential exists…We did not associate the potential of having explosives with a threat to dropping weapons.” 

VanHerck also did not rule out the possibility of explosives on the balloon, which as per media reports, played a role in his decision to shoot it over open water. While several aircraft were involved in the operation, it was shot down by an F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia at 2:39 pm using a single AIM-9X supersonic, heat-seeking, air-to-air missile, as per media reports. 

“They have recovered some remnants off the surface of the sea and weather conditions did not permit much undersea surveillance of the debris field,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, on Monday. He added that the US personnel will be able to better examine what is at the bottom of the ocean in the upcoming days but this is just the beginning. 

The search for debris of what the US believes is a Chinese spy balloon and Beijing says is a weather monitoring device is underway after it was shot down by Washington’s fighter jets. It reportedly first passed into US airspace from the north of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands on January 28 and was downed on Saturday (February 4) over the Atlantic Coast. 

Since the discovery, the relations between the two countries have become strained, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby, said that the incident had done nothing to improve the already escalating tensions between US and China. The balloon entering Washington’s airspace has since caused an uproar in the US which also prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone his scheduled trip to Beijing on February 5 and 6 where both countries had hoped to somewhat stabilise their rocky relations. 

However, US President Joe Biden had earlier said, “No. We made it clear to China what we’re going to do. They understand our position. We’re not going to back off. We did the right thing and it’s not a question of weakening or strengthening – it’s reality.” The statement was made in response to the effect this balloon would have on US-China relations. 

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that nevertheless, Washington’s approach to relations with Beijing would remain calm. She added, “It’s up to China to figure out what kind of relationship they want”. China, on the other hand, has since accused the US of using “indiscriminate force” as it shot the balloon down and “obviously overreacted” asking Washington to show restraint and warning about “serious repercussions”. 

“This balloon is not American. The Chinese government will continue to defend its legitimate rights and interests”, said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, on Tuesday, in response to a question whether Beijing had asked Washington to return the debris from the balloon it shot down. 

(With inputs from agencies)


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