A suspected Chinese spy balloon was shot down by a US military fighter jet on February 4, 2023, off the coast of South Carolina, one week after it had violated American airspace and set off a dramatic spying plot that heightened tensions between the US and China.
US President Joe Biden said, “They successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it.” Although the Pentagon advised deflating the balloon over open water to protect civilians from debris falling to Earth from thousands of feet (metres) above commercial air traffic, Biden claimed that he had given the order to do so on Wednesday.
The balloon, which was roughly the size of three school buses and was shot down over a relatively shallow sea about six nautical miles off the US coast, could boost efforts to recover pieces of the Chinese spying equipment in the coming days, according to officials.
One F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia fired the shot at 19:39 GMT while using a single AIM-9X supersonic, heat-seeking air-to-air missile, according to media reports, which cited a senior US military official. Several fighters and refuelling aircraft were involved in the mission.
The shootdown happened soon after the Biden administration banned flights into and out of Wilmington, Myrtle Beach, and Charleston regional airports due to an unspecified “national security effort,” according to the administration at the time.
Notably, the balloon moved into Canadian airspace on January 30 after first entering US territory in Alaska on January 28. On January 31, it re-entered US airspace over northern Idaho, and after crossing US soil, it did not re-enter the ocean, making a shootdown challenging.
China acknowledged earlier this week for an “airship” that had erred into US airspace while being employed for civilian meteorological and other research objectives.
The airship’s trip above the US was a result of a force majeure mishap, according to China’s foreign ministry, which also charged US politicians and media with exploiting the incident to malign Beijing.
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