Recovery efforts are underway after the U.S. and Canada have taken down objects that intruded into sovereign airspace recently. The first being a balloon which the Defense Secretary has confirmed was a Chinese surveillance tool.
Following targeted action, the balloon came down in U.S. waters off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4. U.S. Northern Command said in a statement issued yesterday that crews “have been able to recover significant debris from the site, including all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure.”
The Defense Department is working closely with the rest of the federal government, including the Federal Aviation Authority, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and others, to interpret the findings.
“We, of course, know that a range of entities, including countries, companies, research organizations, operate in these altitudes — or at these altitudes for purposes that are not nefarious, including legitimate research,” said Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III. “That said, because we’ve not been able to definitively assess what these recent objects are, we’ve acted out of an abundance of caution to protect our security and interests. That’s why we have teams working hard to track down the debris from over the weekend.”
Austin said extensive efforts were underway in South Carolina, Alaska, and Lake Huron, and that the U.S. is supporting Canada their recovery efforts too. Each of these recoveries are unique and each pose their own challenges, as Austin explained.
“In South Carolina, crews have collected a fair amount of debris from the site, and weather permitting, continue to search. In Alaska, the object landed on sea ice, and because of the wind chills and other weather impacts in the area, safety concerns are dictating recovery timelines.
“In Yukon territory, Canada is leading recovery operations in the very remote area where the debris landed. And the FBI continues to liaison with Canadian officials, and U.S. Northern Command is ready to offer additional support as requested. In Lake Huron, U.S. Northern Command and the U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI are beginning operations to locate debris, in close partnership with the Canadians. Because the recovery efforts are unique, the timelines will be unique as well.”
As he arrived for a Defense Ministerial at NATO headquarters in Brussels yesterday, Austin was clear that the balloon taken down on Feb. 4 was a surveillance balloon from China.
“I want to be clear — the three objects taken down this weekend are very different from what we were talking about last week. We knew exactly what that was, a PRC surveillance balloon. As we have said, we do not assess that the recent objects pose any direct threat to the people on the ground and we will continue to focus on confirming their nature and purpose.”
Meanwhile, John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council in the White House said yesterday that Chinese surveillance balloons are operating globally.
“When President Joe Biden came into office, he directed the U.S. intelligence community to do a broad assessment of Chinese intelligence capabilities,” Kirby said. “We were able to determine that China has a high-altitude balloon program for intelligence collection that’s connected to the People’s Liberation Army. It was operating during the previous administration, but they did not detect it. We detected it. We tracked it. And, we have been carefully studying it to learn as much as we can.”
Kirby said that the surveillance balloons have “crossed over dozens of countries on multiple continents around the world, including some of our closest allies and partners”, adding that the U.S. is consulting with allies and partners on the challenge of identifying aerial phenomenon. The President has also directed an interagency team to study the broader policy implications for detection, analysis and disposition of unidentified aerial objects that pose either safety or security risks, Kirby said.