A U.S. Air Force fighter safely shot down a Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon today, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in a written statement. President Joe Biden ordered the action on Wednesday, but it was delayed until the balloon was over water off the coast of South Carolina to ensure no Americans on the ground were harmed. The action was taken in coordination and support of the Canadian government. U.S. officials first detected the balloon and its payload on January 28 when it entered U.S. airspace near the Aleutian Islands. The balloon traversed Alaska, Canada and re-entered U.S. airspace over Idaho.
“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. We thank Canada for its contribution to tracking and analysis of the balloon through [North American Aerospace Defense Command] as it transited North America. Today’s deliberate and lawful action demonstrates that President Biden and his national security team will always put the safety and security of the American people first while responding effectively to the PRC’s unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Austin said referring to the Peoples Republic of China,” Austin said.
An F-22 Raptor fighter from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, fired one AIM-9X Sidewinder missile at the balloon. The balloon fell approximately six miles off the coast in about 47 feet of water. No one was hurt. Long before the shoot down, U.S. officials took steps to protect against the balloon’s collection of sensitive information, mitigating its intelligence value to the Chinese. The recovery of the balloon will enable U.S. analysts to examine sensitive Chinese equipment. The balloon did not pose a military or physical threat. Still its intrusion into American airspace over several days was an unacceptable violation of U.S. sovereignty.
The mission now transitions to one of recovery. There are a number of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels establishing a security perimeter around the area where the balloon came to Earth. They are searching for debris, said a senior military official also speaking on background. There is no estimate for how long the recovery mission will take, the military official said, but the fact that it came down in such a shallow area should make recovery “fairly easy”. The military official gave some detail of the engagement. The F-22 fired the Sidewinder at the balloon from an altitude of 58,000 feet. The balloon at the time was between 60,000 and 65,000 feet.
Photos show the Chinese Balloon being shot down by a F-22 Raptor from Myrtle Beach, SC!
— Jake (@astroqv) February 4, 2023