Chinese spy balloon

A Chinese Balloon Exposes a Massive Vulnerability

On February 2, a high-altitude Chinese balloon assumed to be loaded with sensitive surveillance gear traveled over Alaska, Canada, and the northern United States. It turns out to have been one of several over time – and the Pentagon watched it travel over Montana, home of one the US military’s land-based, nuclear-tipped Minuteman III missile fields.

Are you concerned? The Pentagon is surprisingly sanguine.

The Pentagon has confirmed that the balloon is Chinese, and that China has asked for “calm” about the incident. Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Pat Ryder said, “Instances of this activity have been observed over the past several years.… We acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”

Three questions:

  • If they knew about the balloons, why were they permitted to continue flight?
  • What weight does China’s call for “calm” carry with the administration in light of a military violation of our borders?
  • What if it wasn’t “surveillance equipment” at all?

The administration wants us to agree that a Chinese intrusion into US airspace is not a big deal. And a high-altitude balloon can, indeed, be used for surveillance. But it can also carry weapons – for example, a nuclear EMP (electromagnetic pulse) weapon intended to create a crisis over an American nuclear site.

The Pentagon made three points of its own. First, that the balloon was operating well above the altitude of commercial aviation, but the incident only became public because it was, in fact, spotted by a passenger on a commercial flight.

Second, the military opposed shooting down the balloon because there might be debris that could injure civilians, but the population density of Montana undermines the point.

Third, the administration had determined that the balloon didn’t give China any additional surveillance capability beyond what it already had through spy satellites orbiting the Earth.

This leaves the EMP question aside. It also leaves aside the possibility that China wasn’t looking for additional surveillance information but was checking out how well America’s continental air defenses actually work. The answer would be, “Not well, apparently.” That is both a military and a strategic comment.

Read the rest at Asia Times.

Stephen Bryen is a Senior Fellow at Yorktown Institute.

Shoshana Bryen is senior director of The Jewish Policy Center and Editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.

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