US F-22 Raptor made its second kill when it shot down a “high-altitude object” hovering over Alaska. The Raptor downed the object at 1:45 p.m. ET.
“The Department of Defense was tracking a high-altitude object over Alaska airspace in the last 24 hours,” John Kirby, said. The object was flying at 40,000 feet and “posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight.”
After noticing the object, the US dispatched its F-35 jets to check on the object. The object was eventually shot down by an F-22 Raptor that also downed the Chinese spy balloon.
The object was shot down near the Canadian border, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said.
Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand backed the US decision but clarified that the object never flew into Canadian airspace.
Anand said the joint US-Canada aerospace agency NORAD dispatched the fighters to track and observe the object. Eventually, Anand said, she “conveyed Canada’s support for taking action to take down this object.”
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau tweeted: This afternoon, an object that violated American airspace was brought down. I was briefed on the matter and supported the decision to take action. Our military and intelligence services will always work together, including through @NORADCommand, to keep people safe.
Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said that the “high-altitude object” was not similar in size to the Chinese spy balloon that was recently shot down.
China Spy Baloon: Haunting The US
The row over the Chinese balloon deepens after Beijing said it was only a weather device that had floated erroneously because of air pressure.
The debris of the downed balloon is under examination by experts, and some of it that has fallen into the ocean is being retrieved by the US naval establishment. The real purpose of China behind launching the balloon will be established after the recovered contents are examined.
The Chinese balloon incident compelled the State Department to cancel the visit of the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Beijing scheduled for February 6. Although neither side had formally announced the departure date, the two presidents approved the visit during their meeting in Bali.
However, Reuters reports that the US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned trip to Beijing had been postponed and not canceled over the incident.
US Coordinating Closely With Allies
Reflecting on the situation arising from the Chinese spy balloon, the spokesman added that Washington was now focused on coordinating closely with its allies and partners, sharing information, comparing notes, and making sure they understood the information the US now had in its possession as well as the basis for its decision to take down the unstaffed airship. “That will continue to be our focus in the coming days,” the spokesman added.
This could be explained as a clue to two possible reactions from the US. Firstly, after examining whatever debris came to their hand, the experts began to suspect that it was a spy balloon with ulterior objectives though still under examination. The second is that, presuming it is a spy balloon, the US would take its European and other allies into confidence as the Chinese strategy could threaten their security.
The state department spokesman, Ned Price, said that the US had detected high-altitude surveillance balloons of the same variety as the one spotted over the northern American state of Montana across five continents. “This is a challenge that several countries have been subjected to. We thought it was important to convene and reach out to like-minded countries worldwide to share what we experienced, know, and express our common concerns.
“This has to be accepted as an important development, and the balloon strategy is entering a new phase of China’s hostility against the democratic West and the US. The US thinks Beijing’s explanation that the balloon was only a weather device “just rings hollow,” he said.
Though China has reacted sharply to what the spokesman of the State Department said on the incident, observers think that Beijing is unlikely to escalate tensions following the shooting down of the suspected spy balloon. Military analysts believe Beijing made this decision keeping an eye on American public opinion.
The US deployed Air Force’s most advanced fighter, the F-22 Raptor, to shoot down the spy balloon. According to fighter aircraft estimates, this is also one of the most expensive aircraft, with an average cost per flying hour of around US$ 68,000.
“The F-22 has the highest ceiling of any US Air Force fighter aircraft. It fired the missile at 58,000 feet (17,700 meters). The balloon was at 60,000 feet (18,300 meters),” said Stephen Burgess, a professor in the department of international security studies at the US Air War College.
Controversy Over Shooting Down The Balloon
Controversy has arisen about the US using F-22 to shoot down the balloon. Beijing slammed Washington’s decision as an “overaction,” adding that China had the right to take necessary measures to deal with similar situations.
However, President Biden rejected any assertion that the balloon incident would weaken US-China relations. Replying to a question, President Biden said, “We made it clear to China what we are going to do. They understand our position. We are not going to back off. We did the right thing, and it’s not a question of weakening or strengthening. It’s reality.”
We know President Biden had compulsions to make the ballooning controversy a big deal. The Republican rivals have already stirred it up as a big issue, opines Professor Shi Yinhong at the Beijing Renmin University.
We can imagine the Biden administration taking two objectives into account as catalysts to the action about the balloon. It had to warn China against more intrusions into US territory and show the Republicans and the American public that it was determined and could safeguard national security and territorial sovereignty by adopting a hardline China policy.
Both objectives were successfully achieved. The balloon controversy had handed a handle to the hawks in the American Congress ahead of a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee meeting.
It has to be noted that the Chinese State media responded with reports that the People’s Liberation Army also has a history of using its rocket force and air force to ring down US balloons, including a suspected spy balloon that entered Chinese territory in May 1974 after the Soviet Union was unable to shoot it down.
In light of the history of spy balloons becoming an instrument of intelligence gathering, we find the two sides on an even keel. The speculation that China will not react aggressively to the incident of the US shooting down the spy balloon seems to be well-founded.
- KN Pandita (Padma Shri) is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies at Kashmir University. Views expressed here are of the author’s.
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