US military recovers key sensors from shot down Chinese spy balloon: Debris found off South Carolina coast shows electronics ‘used for intelligence gathering’
The U.S. military have announced they’ve recovered critical electronics from the Chinese spy balloon downed by a U.S. fighter jet off South Carolina’s coast on February 4. Recovered fragments from the aircraft include key sensors presumably used for intelligence gathering, the U.S. military’s Northern Command said Monday. The revelation comes less than a week after Navy seamen were pictured pulling portions of Chinese spy balloon from the chilly waters of the Atlantic – with the Pentagon releasing sensational photographs of the retrieval operation.
The Chinese balloon, which Beijing denies was a spy vessel, spent a week flying over the United States and Canada before it was shot down on the orders of U.S. President Biden – a decision officials reportedly agonized for days amid fears of harming the already tenuous relationship between the two countries. The spy balloon was the first of four airborne objects gunned out of the sky by the U.S. in eight days. In the end, the episode inevitably strained ties between Washington and Beijing, and spurred a sprawling U.S. military scouring effort across U.S. skies for other objects of interests – leading to an unprecedented shooting down of three suspected spy crafts between Friday and Sunday.
On Monday, U.S. military’s Northern Command, the agency tasked with defending the American homeland, revealed in a statement that debris from the first craft included sensors likely used for the gathering of intel. ‘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 statement said. While much about the more recent, unmanned aircraft remains unknown, officials this week said they are continuing to look for debris.
On Monday U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, sought to calm any fears Americans are having regarding potential risks posed by the three other unidentified objects. ‘I want to reassure Americans that these objects do not present a military threat to anyone on the ground,’ Austin said, speaking to reporters as he landed in Brussels for a NATO gathering. ‘They do, however, present a risk to civil aviation and potentially an intelligence collection threat.’ The U.S. military has said that targeting the latest objects has been more difficult than shooting down the Chinese spy balloon, given the smaller size and the objects’ lack of a traditional radar signature.
In an example of the difficulty, the latest shootdown of an unidentified object on Sunday by an F-16 fighter jet took two sidewinder missiles – after one of them failed to down the target, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Austin said the U.S. military has not yet recovered any debris from the three most recent objects shot down, one of which fell off the coast of Alaska in ice and snow. Another shootdown occurred over the Yukon territory in Canada. U.S. officials have so far shied away from saying that the incidents are connected. However, on Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested the four aerial objects shot down in recent days are somehow connected, but did not elaborate as to why his office believes that to be true.
‘Obviously there is some sort of pattern in there, the fact we are seeing this in a significant degree over the past week is a cause for interest and close attention,’ Trudeau told reporters in a news conference not far from where the plane was shot down in Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital. The downing of the first balloon, meanwhile, sent both figurative and literal waves throughout the American populace, occurring at the end of a week that saw the craft spotted multiple times during its journey over the continental U.S. The unrest, for the most part, played out behind closed doors, as Biden and other White House officials engaged in heated situation room talks over whether to shoot down the suspected surveillance craft, which Beijing insists was designed for ‘meteorological purposes.’
The public quickly became aware of the incident – as well as the possible implications it held in regards to the increasingly stormy relationship between the U.S. and China. Adding insult to injury, the Pentagon, says later, would confirm that another suspected ‘Chinese surveillance balloon’ had been spotted flying over Latin America, near the Colombian port city of Cartagena, and was too being investigated. General Glen VanHerck, the head of U.S. Northern Command, last week said that the Defense Department ‘did not detect’ the balloons sighted after the one near South Carolina, saying that the intelligence community instead was made aware of them through other means of information collection.
Defense officials then revealed there had been a further five suspected spy balloon sightings during Trump’s presidency, seemingly swept under the rug to keep up the façade of a favorable relationship between the two countries. Compounding the unrest is that several similar balloons had also recently been spotted in at least two highly-sensitive military sites in Virginia and California – but were disregarded as UFOs at the time by the intelligence community. China has not commented on those sighting, but maintains the craft shot down near South Carolina was a civilian balloon used for meteorological research. Officials, however, have refused to say to which government department or company the balloon belongs. On Monday, U.S. military made another development in their retrieval of wreckage from the first aircraft, after putting a pause on the effort last week due to bad weather and rough seas.
That said, the Navy and Coast Guard resumed the retrieval mission this week, and on Monday successfully raised a significant portion of the balloon’s payload from the ocean floor, defense officials confirmed Monday The payload measured roughly 30-feet-long, and reportedly contained much of the craft’s high-tech tech gear and several surveillance antennas. Concerning the object shot down over Canada, officials said the Canadian government has since taken the helm of that operation, but has yet to locate the debris. The object shot down Sunday over Michigan, the official said, is also still being searched for, in a joint effort between the the U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian authorities. Officials said that officials already have a decent idea where the aircraft may have landed, and that they are confident its wreckages will be recovered. All of the incidents are currently being investigated.
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