US Government Shoots Down Chinese Spy Balloon Off the Coast of South Carolina

Photo Credit: Peter Zay / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Peter Zay / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

The Chinese spy balloon has been shot down. In a statement posted to the Department of Defense’s website on February 4, 2023, news of the downing was revealed, along with statements from Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and a senior defense official. The unmanned balloon had first been spotted in American airspace on January 28, floating near the Aleutian Islands.

Infographic explaining how a spy balloon works
Photo Credit: Elmurod Usubaliev / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

According to the statement released by the DoD, a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia was responsible for taking out the Chinese spy balloon six miles off the coast of South Carolina, firing an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile at the craft. Upon being hit, the debris fell into the ocean below.

On top of the F-22, the mission involved McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagles from Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts and tankers from Montana, North Carolina, Oregon and South Carolina. The Canadian government also helped track the flight path of the balloon, and, prior to the missile being fired, all flights in and out of three area airports were halted due to what was, at the time, deemed an undisclosed “national security effort.”

While initial reports stated that the US government had declined to shoot down the balloon, it has been revealed that President Joe Biden ordered it be taken out on February 1, 2023. However, the Pentagon suggested such action be delayed until the craft was over an area where it couldn’t harm American citizens.

Speaking in the DoD’s statement, Lloyd Austin said, “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.”

Joe Biden walking away from an aircraft
US President Joe Biden speaks with reporters following the downing of a Chinese spy balloon that first entered American airspace on January 28, 2023. (Photo Credit: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP / Getty Images)

The Chinese spy balloon was first detected floating near the Aleutian Islands on January 28, 2023. It proceeded to cross over Alaska, before entering Canadian airspace and, then, re-entering American airspace over Idaho. While the Chinese admitted it was theirs, they said it was a runaway weather balloon and not a spy craft, a claim US officials rejected.

While in American airspace, steps were taken to prevent the collection of sensitive information, with the belief being that China was looking to monitor specific military sites, including Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, home to one of just three nuclear missile silo fields in the US.

Upon learning about the downing, Chinese officials told the media that the US had committed a “serious violation of international practice” and that repercussions could occur as a result.

Chinese spy balloon floating in the sky
Chinese spy balloon floating off the coast of South Carolina, February 4, 2023. (Photo Credit: Peter Zay / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

Now that the spy balloon has been taken out, a senior defense official shares that the next step is to recover it, a move that would allow analysts to examine the secretive Chinese equipment. The US Navy and Coast Guard have dispatched vessels, including the USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79), Carter Hall (LSD-50) and Philippine Sea (CG-58) to the area, with both services working alongside the FBI and counterintelligence agencies to find and collect as much debris as possible.

“I would also note that while we took all the necessary steps to protect against the PRC surveillance balloon’s collection of sensitive information, the surveillance balloon’s overflight of U.S. territory was of intelligence value to us,” the official added. “I can’t go into more detail, but we were able to study and scrutinize the balloon and its equipment, which has been valuable.”

Ship at sea on a foggy day
Ship scans the ocean during efforts to recover the Chinese spy balloon after it was shot down, February 5, 2023. (Photo Credit: Peter Zay / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

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On February 3, 2023, US officials revealed that a second Chinese spy balloon had been spotted over Latin America. The same day, the Columbian Air Force said that an identified object was detected in the country’s airspace. Officials added that it was followed until it left Columbian airspace and that it didn’t present a threat to national security.

China has yet to comment on the second balloon.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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