The failure of the U.S. military to detect Chinese balloons entering U.S. airspace in the past is a major security flaw that the Pentagon needs to address, said Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, Commander, United States Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, on Monday during a press briefing.
USNORTHCOM is responsible for homeland defence, civil support, and security cooperation in order to defend and protect the U.S. and its interests. NORAD provides aerospace warning, aerospace control, and maritime warning for North American defence.
“So those balloons, so every day as a NORAD commander it’s my responsible to — responsibility to detect threats to North America. I will tell you that we did not detect those threats. And that’s a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out. But I don’t want to go in further detail.
“The intel community, after the fact, I believe has been briefed already, assess those threats to additional means of collection from additional means and made us aware of those balloons that were previously approaching North America or transited North America,” he said when asked if NORAD had tracked Chinese balloons in U.S. airspace on several earlier occasions.
White House National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby stated on Monday that at least three instances of Chinese hot air balloons entering U.S. airspace had been reported since Democrat Joe Biden came to office.
Before this, Bloomberg reported, citing sources, that Chinese balloons were spotted at least three times over U.S. territory during the previous president’s administration, the Republican Donald Trump. However, this information became public only “with the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House.” According to the organisation, this explains why former President Trump and senior government officials denied that Chinese balloons had previously breached U.S. airspace.
Patrick Ryder, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, stated on February 2 that U.S. authorities had observed a “reconnaissance balloon” over the country’s continental portion. According to him, the balloon’s altitude exceeded the standard boundaries for commercial air travel and posed no hazard to anyone on the ground. The U.S. military shot down the probe on February 4 off the coast of South Carolina within U.S. airspace. No harm done.
A F-22 fighter reportedly deployed one AIM-9X air-to-air missile to shoot down the Chinese spy balloon in U.S. airspace.
According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, this is a Chinese balloon and “its aim is civilian – the probe is employed for meteorological research in particular.” In light of the balloon incident, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken postponed a trip to China.
Chinese shot down a spy balloon in 2019
China allegedly had one of its fighter jets shoot down a foreign spy balloon four years ago, reports Chinese media.
After the balloon entered the country’s airspace in September 2019, a Chinese military plane shot down the balloon with a missile.
According to accounts, it was a surveillance balloon from a foreign government; however, the country was not specified.
At the time, Chinese officials warned that a global power employed such a balloon to monitor meteorological conditions and terrestrial facilities. They were also apprehensive about airships, which they believed could be used to track cruise missiles in low-altitude flights.
According to experts, China’s 2019 action resembles what the U.S. Air Force recently did against a Chinese balloon that was seen traversing the continental United States.
Japan to probe previous balloon overflight incidents
A government spokesperson said Monday that Japan is investigating whether there are any links between a suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down by the U.S. military and reports of a flying object sighted in the country’s northeastern region a few years ago, reports Kyodo.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki stated at a news conference that the government has confirmed the flying object was sighted over Miyagi and Aomori prefectures in 2020 and 2021, respectively, and that the government will continue to investigate the issue.
Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a press conference on Monday that she was unaware of the flying object sighted in Japan.
According to Isozaki, a balloon or any other aerial object flown by a foreign country in Japan’s territory without permission would usually be recognised as a violation of Japan’s airspace, prompting the Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) to take appropriate action, including scrambling fighter jets.
Meanwhile, Isozaki declined to comment on the specific procedures the ASDF took at the time to cope with the flying item.
When citizens of Miyagi and nearby Fukushima prefectures noticed a white, balloon-like object in June 2020, local authorities dispatched a helicopter to investigate but were eventually unable to identify or verify its origin.
However, there was a lot of speculation about the object in the media, with reports about it going viral as people expressed their curiosity and excitement on Twitter.