Geopolitics & World-affairs

Amid Chinese Spy Balloon Saga: The US Shot Down Cheap Chinese Spy Balloon Over The Atlantic Using "AIM-9X" Sidewinder Missile

The world awoke on Thursday to news of a Chinese spy balloon over the skies of the United States, but spy balloons are not new in modern warfare. Spy balloons were a common sight in the early 1900s. When there was no concept of satellites, every major power used that technology to spy on its adversaries. But spy balloons in today's world are a bizarre concept.

When the Chinese spy balloons appeared over the skies of the northwestern states, the Pentagon pressed the panic button.

The US president, Joe Biden, immediately ordered the balloon to be shot down, but the USAF proceeded with caution to protect US citizens.

According to the USAF, if the balloon had been shot over the mainland, the people living there would have borne the brunt of the casualties caused by debris generated by the balloon itself. 

Therefore, to ensure that no citizens on the ground were harmed, the balloon was shot down until it was over water off the coast of South Carolina.

The US Air Force uses its most advanced F-22 Raptor to shoot it down with an AIM-9X Sidewinder Missile. 

The Chinese government, which had always denied any wrongdoing, even during the Covid-19 pandemic, had accepted that it was their balloon and according to them, it was not a surveillance balloon, but rather a civilian weather balloon that had gone astray.

The Chinese government denied using ballon tactics to spy on the US. However, the US government has directly blamed China squarely, and Secretary Blinken has canceled his trip to China due to the Balloon controversy. 

The ballon was first spotted on 2nd February, Thursday, flying at high altitude, and has hovered in the US airspace for a couple of days. 

According to US officials, the balloon was hovering above civilian airspace and collecting sensitive data from US military and nuclear facilities in northwest states. 

The US has nuclear and military facilities in Colorado, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming, and other western states. The Chinese spy balloon was within the Malmstorm Air Force Base which is currently hosting 3 nuclear missile launching silos.  

What exactly is a spy balloon?

A spy balloon is a gas-filled balloon that flies quite high in the sky. These balloons typically fly at altitudes of 24,000-37,000 meters (80,000-120,000 feet), much higher than commercial airlines, which rarely fly above 12,000 meters (40,000 feet)

It's equipped with advanced cameras and imaging technology, and it's pointing all of those instruments down at the ground.

It collects data on ground assets using its imaging technique, regardless of which camera is present. 

These balloons can't be steered directly like planes or satellites but they can be roughly guided to target an area by changing altitudes to catch the different wind currents. 

Why were the Chinese using it when they have world-class satellite surveillance?

In today's days of satellite imaging, spy balloons take a backstage but Chinse used the technique because of the following reasons. 

Today, spy satellites float above us in one of two orbits. The first is known as low Earth orbit, and these satellites are, as the name implies, close to the ground. They are, however, hundreds of miles above us. The constant movement of these low-Earth orbit satellites around the Earth is a disadvantage. It takes them about 90 minutes to complete one orbit around the Earth. This proves to be quite fast in terms of capturing clear images of what's going on below.

The second type of satellite orbit, known as geosynchronous orbit, is much further away. It has the disadvantage of making it more difficult to see things clearly when you're very, very far away. However, they have the advantage of what we call persistence, which allows satellites to continuously capture images. 

And both of these surveillance techniques are very expensive in nature because countries must first send satellites into orbit using million-dollar rockets, then place them there, and keep the satellite in orbit until it becomes obsolete. As a result, it is an extremely costly process.

In comparison of it, balloons are very cheap and they are far closer to the ground than satellites. Because of their proximity to the ground, so, they can see even more clearly. And, of course, they move slowly, so they have a certain amount of persistence. 

But, these days balloons are not a good choice to do spying because it is easy to spot and non-maneuverable. 

In conclusion, it is clear that the spy balloon row has seriously harmed the China-US relationship, and the world can only hope that this row does not give birth to another round of nuclear rhetoric, as seen in Europe. 

And the Chinese definitely violated another country's international airspace because there is an internationally recognized boundary known as the Kármán Line at 62 miles (100 kilometers) altitude. This balloon is far below that, so it is unquestionably in US airspace.