Concerns have grown that China may reach the wreckage of their downed spy balloon before the US Navy as a salvage vessel won’t be on the scene for days.
US officials confirmed that an F-22 Raptor fighter jet shot down the balloon with a single AIM-9X sidewinder missile at 2.38pm on Saturday, six miles off the coast of South Carolina.
A senior military advisor told Fox News that the debris field was about seven-miles wide, with the depth of the waters estimated at 47 feet.
While multiple Navy and Coast Guard vessels are in the area establishing a security and search perimeter, the senior advisor said an official salvage vessel won’t arrive until a couple of days.
There is currently no timeline on the recovery of the balloon from the Atlantic Ocean after its presence shocked the nation while it hovered over several nuclear silos before going down.
US Navy and Coast Guard vessels are securing the perimeter off the coast of South Carolina where a fighter jet shot down a Chinese spy balloon (pictured)
Officials said the first spy balloon that traveled across the US fell six miles off the coast of South Carolina in waters about 47 feet deep. They noted that a proper salvage vessel won’t be on the scene for days as the race is on to secure the wreckage
Footage of the jet shooting down the balloon showed the aircraft screaming towards it before firing a missile as stunned locals watched from the coast.
President Joe Biden praised the Top Gun fighter jet pilot who shot it down, telling reporters: ‘I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible without doing damage to anyone on the ground.
‘They decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water.’
‘They successfully took it down and I want to compliment our aviators who did it,’ the President added as he stepped off Air Force One en route to Camp David at Hagerstown Regional Airport, Maryland.
The Pentagon confirmed: ‘The balloon, which was being used by the People’s Republic of China in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States, was brought down above US territorial waters.’
Defense officials estimated the balloon was about the size of three buses and that the debris field would be substantial.
Jets were seen flying close to the balloon around 1.30pm after a source revealed that defense officials were planning a shoot down and capture mission
Biden (boarding Air Force One this morning in Syracuse, NY) told reporters, ‘I told them to shoot it down on Wednesday. They said to me let’s wait for the safest place to do it’
PENTAGON’S FULL STATEMENT:
This afternoon, at the direction of President Biden, US fighter aircraft assigned to the US Northern Command successfully brought down the high altitude surveillance balloon launched and belonging to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the water off the coast of South Carolina in US 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 US 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, US 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 the 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.
Biden first became aware of the balloon last Sunday, January 28, when it was spotted over Alaska. The US military tracked it over Canadian airspace and as it re-entered US territory on Tuesday.
The following day, Biden was given a detailed report on the aircraft and its course, attended by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.
Biden initially wanted to take it down but Milley and Austin argued the risk from falling debris was too great, sources revealed.
Meanwhile, the administration went to the Chinese embassy for an explanation and continued making preparations for Blinken’s landmark diplomatic visit.
The administration finally told the public on Thursday after a local Montana paper, the Billings Gazette, published photos of the balloon.
The Biden’s administration’s attempts to hide the blatant US airspace violation from the public for almost a week and inaction over the threat to national security have infuriated Republicans.
‘Communist China’s surveillance balloon violates international law and threatens our homeland,’ Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island) told The New York Post.
‘It’s an outrage that the Biden Administration spotted this balloon days ago as it was flying over the Aleutian Islands and did nothing about it,’ she said. ‘The president has not even made a comment about this unacceptable act of aggression by the CCP.’
The emergence of the spy aircraft comes on the heels of a classified report to Congress which outlined advanced new technology that US adversaries were harnessing to spy on the country.
The report last month mentioned at least two incidents of a rival power conducting aerial surveillance with what appeared to be unknown cutting-edge technology, sources told The New York Times.
Although the report did not single out any country, two US officials familiar with the research named China.
The two sites where the unusual surveillance was detected included a military base in the US and another overseas.
Since 2021, the Pentagon has studied 366 unexplained incidents and determined that 163 were balloons.
A handful of these were advanced surveillance balloons, a US official told the Times.
A US defense official said the balloon is the size of several buses – but doesn’t post an immediate threat to Americans. The balloon, pictured over Montana, had been tracked for several days but officials decided not to shoot it down over fears about debris. China claims it is a civilian airship used for meteorological research
The Chinese foreign ministry said it regretted that the balloon had mistakenly entered US airspace, claiming it was a civilian craft
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken claims he told senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi in a phone call that sending the balloon over the US was ‘an irresponsible act and that (China’s) decision to take this action on the eve of my visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have’.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement: ‘In actuality, the US and China have never announced any visit. The US making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that.’
According to Beijing, Wang said China ‘has always strictly followed international law, we do not accept any groundless speculation and hype. Faced with unexpected situations, both parties need to keep calm, communicate in a timely manner, avoid misjudgments and manage differences’.
China’s foreign ministry said the balloon ‘seriously deviated from the scheduled route’ and expressed regret that ‘the airship strayed into the United States due to force majeure’ and claimed it was used for scientific research ‘such as meteorology’ – something the Pentagon disputed.
The Chinese surveillance balloon is estimated to be about the width of three buses. The balloon is fitted with solar panels to power the on-board equipment, which could include long-range cameras and radar. It was traveling at an altitude of around 60,000ft on Friday afternoon, but the balloons can reach heights of around double that
The detection of the balloon, which triggered alarm in the White House and the Pentagon, adds to a series of recent controversies that have further strained the tense relationship between China and the United States.
Beijing had urged calm while it established the ‘facts’ before a statement yesterday morning said the balloon was a weather research device that had ‘deviated far from its planned course’.
The Chinese foreign ministry said it regretted that the balloon had mistakenly entered US airspace.