The Ballooning Politics Over Alaska: Was the Chinese Balloon Spying?



China has always left its signature on its past with its weaponry. Since World War II, the war tactics have evolved from using air power to being dominated by nuclear weapons during the Cold War to being guided by precision-attack during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, and now, operating along the information domain based on databases compiled from various sources. Information is at the heart of 21st-century combat for two reasons: first, tactical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities are crucial to the success of precision-focused operations. Precision-guided weapons are useless without precise target locations, just as they are. Second, whether on manned aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, or satellites, the benefits of information outweigh those of sensors and ISR systems. After which, the C4 (Command, Control, Communications, and Computers) networks assist in utilizing the ISR both before and during operations.

China has been developing weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and nuclear weapons. Now with the new technology, they have launched the surveillance balloon, is the surveillance balloon by China really a spy?

Is the Chinese Balloon Spying?

According to China's Foreign Ministry, the balloon was a civilian airship blown off course since it had a limited capacity for self-steering and was primarily employed for meteorological research. According to US officials, the device did have propellers, giving it some navigational capabilities, and could also alter the height to catch different winds. Several sensitive military locations were flown over by the balloon, including missile silos and Montana's Malmstrom Air Force Base. They maintain that it was a surveillance operation and that steps were taken to prevent it from gathering data as well as to observe it using its manned U2 spy plane from above to see what it may have been broadcasting to Chinese satellites.

What Really was the Spy Balloon Carrying?

The balloon was still in the air and displayed a sizable payload that included solar panels and a scaffold-like structure. Other than the fact that it featured many antennae and sensors, the specifics of the electronics found have remained a secret. The payload of the spy balloon, which was between 30 and 26 meters in length, and the height of the jet, according to US sources, were approximately equal. About 900 kilos is the payload's total weight.

Although the US has acknowledged that the balloon did have equipment for collecting electronic signals, it is unclear what kind of information—if any—has been gathered or how much. The use of balloons in espionage and conflict is not new. A crewed French observation balloon was employed at the Battle of Fleurus in 1794, and it is believed that they have been used for military signaling for more than a thousand years.

China, like the US, has created a variety of methods for gathering intelligence about potential enemies. Many of these overlap capabilities, each with advantages and disadvantages. For this reason, the US continues to utilize the renowned U2 espionage plane decades after satellites became commonplace. The payloads that the balloons can carry may potentially be an advantage. They lack screws, which is another consideration. This significantly lowers the political risk of one being exposed or shot down in public.

A balloon could be modified to focus on taking images in the visible and non-visible spectrums, passively collecting electronic communications, or even probing defenses to get more information on their response - then beaming all of that data back via satellites. The U2 aircraft has a wide range of different craft sensors for different missions. The cellphone communications have reportedly been disrupted by Chinese balloons, which will enable them to utilize intelligence.

What are the Future Implications?

The Chinese never thought that they would get caught, but the main reason for getting caught is when the balloon was launched, they thought that they would gather all the information across. The second reason is that American airspace is so closely studied by the US civil aviation authorities, the US air & space forces, and the weather networks—it’s extremely scrutinized. According to the Biden administration, China's spy balloons have flown over more than 40 nations on five continents and appear to be built by one or more businesses that ostensibly supply the Chinese military. This discovery highlights concerns among American officials regarding connections between some civilian-run businesses in China and the military there. Tensions between China and the United States are rising at a time when they are already at a historic low. Top American officials have stated their intention to maintain open lines of communication with China, but the conflicting stories surrounding the balloon are revealing even more hostility. Additionally, the Biden administration has started a campaign to alert nations throughout the globe of the scope of China's surveillance balloon program and its infringements on their sovereign rights. in the hope that other nations will push back against Chinese espionage activities.

The downing of a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of the United States, Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the US, “The East Coast was obviously inflated. They are things. I'm unable to classify how they maintain their altitude. The general did not completely exclude any possibilities, including the potential that the objects had extraterrestrial origins.”

The most recent information indicates that it briefly entered American airspace before disappearing from radar above Montana and reappearing over Wisconsin. By then, Canadian F-18 and American F-16 fighter jets had been dispatched to intercept it. It was brought down by an F-16 using a Sidewinder missile over Lake Huron, where it most likely ended up in Canadian waters.


According to the researchers, the new information about the pentagon will be collected at the center by the operation to salvage. The navy has sent underwater drones carrying the side scan drones carrying side-scan sonar arrays, as well as an oceanographic survey ship to map out the Atlantic sea bottom and identify every piece possible in the debris field located about 50 ft. underwater. The FBI is assisting in the mission under counterintelligence authorities. 

Current Issue