Three objects, including one described by Washington as a Chinese spy balloon, have been shot down over the United States or Canada in a week. Here’s what we know about these mysterious intrusions.
• Read also: Flying object shot down: Justin Trudeau en route to the Yukon
• Read also: China’s balloon ‘clearly’ equipped with spy tools
• Read also: How does China spy on the United States?
– A ball and two objects
On February 2, the Pentagon announced that it was tracking a balloon flying at high altitude over United States territory and sensitive military sites.
For Washington, no doubt, it is a Chinese spy balloon, which entered American territory several days ago. Beijing replies that it is a civilian aircraft used for research purposes, mainly meteorological.
On February 4, the American army shot down the balloon off South Carolina (southeast).
Then on February 10, Washington announced that it had shot down an “object” flying at high altitude over Alaska.
“We don’t know who owns it, whether it’s a state or a company or an individual (…). And we do not currently understand its use, ”says a spokesperson for the White House.
The next day, Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that an “unidentified object” flying over northwestern Canada had been shot down, as part of a joint operation between Washington and Ottawa.
– Size and details
The three craft were shot down by US F-22 fighters using AIM-9X missiles, authorities said.
The Chinese balloon was about 60 meters high and carried a kind of huge basket weighing more than a ton, according to the Pentagon. Its size would be comparable to that of three buses.
A senior US State Department official said the craft had “numerous antennae, a set likely capable of collecting and geolocating communications,” and was “fitted with solar panels large enough to provide power. necessary for the operation of multiple sensors collecting intelligence”.
The other objects were about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, officials said.
The leader of the Senate Democrats, Chuck Schumer, who received information from the White House on the subject, said Sunday that the last two objects were probably balloons too.
Unlike the Chinese balloon, the second object did not appear to have a propulsion system or controls to steer it, according to the White House.
The third was a “cylindrical device,” according to Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand. He was shot in the Yukon, about 160 km from the Canada-US border.
Both were flying at an altitude of around 12,000 meters and posed a possible threat to the safety of civilian flights, according to authorities in both countries.
Washington has since claimed that Beijing sent three aircraft for brief incursions into American skies during Donald Trump’s presidency, as well as one early in Joe Biden’s term — and that they went undetected at the time. ‘era.
– Debris analysis
The American authorities are still busy harvesting the remains of the Chinese balloon in the Atlantic, near the coast of South Carolina, using planes, boats and small submarines.
An official from the FBI, the agency responsible for examining them, recently indicated that only a “small part” of the surveillance equipment had been recovered.
She is being examined at Federal Police labs in Quantico, Va., he added.
What has been recovered so far was floating on the surface of the ocean, he said. Most of the equipment, including the large solar panels, sank to a depth of 14 meters.
For the object shot down over Alaska, the debris fell on frozen waters near the Canadian border, the White House said.
The search continued on Saturday near the American town of Deadhorse. “Arctic weather conditions, including cold, snow and limited daylight, are a factor,” the military said.
Regarding the third object, the Canadian forces “will now recover and analyze the debris”, according to Justin Trudeau.
– Why these objects now?
According to specialists, American and Canadian intelligence continuously receive huge amounts of data and are particularly on the lookout for potential missiles, not slow objects like balloons.
“The truth is…most of what we were looking for didn’t look like balloons. Now, of course, we are looking for them. So I think we’re finding more things,” said elected Democrat Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, on Sunday.
The United States believes the balloon was controlled by the Chinese military and was part of a fleet sent by Beijing over more than 40 countries on five continents for espionage purposes.
For some analysts, this could be the start of a major Chinese spy operation to map out foreign military capabilities, ahead of a possible rise in tensions around Taiwan in the years to come.
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