By Jongyeop Jeong, 12th Grade
On February 1st, a 60-meter-tall white entity was detected in the sky of Montana. This mysterious object was later revealed to be a solar-powered balloon equipped with high-resolution cameras and sent by the Chinese government for an unknown purpose. The U.S. Air Force shot down the balloon with an F-22 after it passed through South Carolina and was heading towards the Atlantic Ocean on the order of the executive branch. The Chinese government expressed anger over the U.S.’s decision, calling it “excessive.”
The American and Canadian militaries claimed that the balloon was for surveillance purposes, while the Chinese government maintained that it was a civilian weather research balloon that had been blown off its intended path. However, analysts pointed out that the balloon’s flight path and structure were inconsistent with typical weather research balloons. The U.S. government later revealed that the balloon was equipped with signals intelligence equipment. As of now, the purpose of the balloon remains unknown. The signals intelligence array on the balloon could have been used to collect calls made on military radios, mobile phones, or other devices. Some classified reports suggest that China utilizes sophisticated technologies to gather information about the U.S. military.
The usage of balloons as a military tool goes down to the 19th and 20th centuries, with various armies, including the U.S. and the Soviet Union, using them during the Cold War. Despite the advent of more advanced surveillance technologies such as satellites and drones, balloons still have some advantages, such as complex detection on radar, lower cost of production, and deployment.
The incident heightened tensions between the U.S. and China and caused U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken to delay his diplomatic visit to Beijing, which was planned for February 5. In retaliation, China rejected attempts by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III to speak with his Chinese counterpart. The incident also strained relations between Canada and China after Canada summoned the Chinese ambassador for violating Canadian airspace.
The recent Chinese spy balloon incident has increased tensions between the United States and China and raised questions about the Chinese government’s intentions. While the purpose of the balloon’s information-gathering remains blurry, its presence highlights the continued use of spy balloons as military technology and the ongoing tension between the world’s two superpowers.
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