The United States has shot down a massive Chinese surveillance balloon that was spotted above Montana earlier this week, government officials have confirmed. While China claimed that it was ‘a civilian aircraft used for meteorological purposes,’ the officials confirmed that the balloon was being used for surveillance.
The Department of Defense stated that fighter jets were used to bring down the object, which landed in the US territorial waters. The incident has escalated tensions between Washington and Beijing, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken has now postponed his planned trip to China.
Chinese Surveillance Balloon Shot Down in US Airspace
The operation was carried out on Saturday while shutting down three airports and closing off the North and South Carolina coasts. Government officials have stated that ‘the balloon didn’t pose a physical or military threat, and the U.S. took steps to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information.’
The balloon was targeted by a single AIM-9X air-to-air missile fired by an F-22 fighter jet at 2:39 p.m. “Fighter aircraft from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia fired a single missile into the balloon, causing it to crash into the ocean,” said the defense official.
The Pentagon released a statement citing that President Biden authorized the plan to take down the ‘surveillance balloon as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives under the balloon’s path.’ The officials waited to shoot down the balloon considering the safety of the people and its intelligence value to the U.S.
“The surveillance balloon’s overflight of U.S. territory was of intelligence value to us. I can’t go into more detail, but we were able to study and scrutinize the balloon and its equipment, which has been valuable,” said the authorities.
Defense Secretary Releases Statement
Following the operation, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin released a statement: “A U.S. fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command successfully brought down the high altitude surveillance balloon launched by and belonging to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the water off the coast of South Carolina in U.S. airspace.”
“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. Military commanders determined downing the balloon while it flew over land “posed an undue risk to people across a wide area due to the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload,” he added.
‘I told them to shoot it down,’ Says President Biden
President Joe Biden spoke to the media on Saturday and said, “I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible. They decided — without doing damage to anyone on the ground – they decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water outside within a 12-mile limit.”
“They successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it, and we’ll have more to report on this a little later. I told them to shoot it down. They said to me, ‘Let’s wait for the safest place to do it,’” the President added.
Stay tuned for more news and updates.