The United States recently took down a Chinese surveillance balloon in the skies above South Carolina.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed in a statement that the balloon was shot down by F-22 American fighter jets. In a statement, Defense Secretary Austin said ”
This afternoon, at the direction of President Biden, U.S. fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command successfully brought down the high altitude surveillance balloon launched by and belonging to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the water off the coast of South Carolina in U.S. airspace. 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. On Wednesday, President Biden gave his authorization to take down the surveillance balloon as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives under the balloon’s path. After careful analysis, U.S. military commanders had determined downing the balloon while over land posed an undue risk to people across a wide area due to the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload. In accordance with the President’s direction, the Department of Defense developed options to take down the balloon safely over our territorial waters, while closely monitoring its path and intelligence collection activities. This action was taken in coordination, and with the full support, of the Canadian government. And we thank Canada for its contribution to tracking and analysis of the balloon through NORAD 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.”
President Biden confirmed that he personally ordered the removal of the balloon once it was clear that it could be done without risking harm to nearby areas. The shootdown was carried out by F-22 Raptors and was supported by other military assets such as refueling aircraft and patrol planes.
As the balloon approached the coast, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily restricted flights and grounded planes at three airports in the Carolinas as a precaution for national security. These restrictions were lifted later in the day. At the current moment, the military working to retrieve the debris.
Video analysis suggests that an AIM-9 Sidewinder was used in a close-range engagement. The F-22 fighter jet mostly uses the AIM-9X now, but it can also carry the AIM-9L/M, as it has for years. The missiles can be guided by the F-22’s AN/APG-77 radar, and the AIM-9X Block II can lock onto its target with the help of the F-22’s powerful radar after launch. Whether the missile had a warhead is unclear. The F-22s were able to gather intelligence over the past days to target the missile effectively. If necessary, the live missile could have been fitted with an inert warhead to decrease its descent. If the missile had a warhead, the AIM-9, with its laser fuse, would have been a better choice than the AIM-120, which has a radar fuse, as the balloon’s envelope is largely transparent to radar energy. This marks the first time an F-22 has made a kill, and it may also be the highest altitude air-to-air kill ever, but this has not been confirmed.
In a press briefing on Saturday afternoon, senior U.S. military and defense officials shared more information about the shootdown.