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Chinese spy balloon was part of vast balloon surveillance program, US says

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US defense officials said yesterday that the Chinese balloon they shot down was a high-tech spy machine likely to collect communications.

And it’s not the only one of its kind: The spy balloon was part of a huge armada of balloons operated by the Chinese military that spied on other countries from ultra-high altitudes, according to US officials.

  • Chinese surveillance balloons have floated over more than 40 countries on five continents, a senior administration official said, including Japan, India, the Philippines and notably Taiwan.
  • In the United States, at least five Chinese spy balloons have been observed during the Trump and Biden administrations (but the three balloons detected during Trump’s tenure were initially thought to be unidentified aerial phenomena).

Not your average ball

While China claims the balloon was intended for weather research, the United States hit back: a weather balloon Really need large solar panels to power multiple intelligence gathering sensors? Probably not, leading officials to determine that the balloon was “clearly intended for intelligence surveillance.”

The United States learned a lot from sending U-2 surveillance planes to spy on the spy balloon itself as it floated across the country last week. And they are already convinced that the balloon manufacturer has a direct business relationship with the Chinese military.

China bets big on balloons

Much like what Microsoft is doing with Bing right now, the Chinese military has been infuse archaic technology with new capabilities. Although balloons have been around much longer than satellites, they retain a competitive advantage in several areas, and Chinese scientists have worked to improve their durability and ability to evade tracking.

Big Picture: China’s bloated investment shows the growing importance of “near spaceto the military of the 21st century. Near space, which lies between 12 miles and 60 miles above the Earth’s surface, is the unclaimed middle layer of the atmosphere above the commercial airline flight path but below satellites.NC

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