“Spy” balloon, flying objects: what we know about intrusions over North America


Three objects, including one described by Washington as a Chinese spy balloon, were shot down over the United States or Canada in one week. Here's what we know about these mysterious intrusions. 

A balloon and two objects

On February 2, the Pentagon advertises following 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 (south -east).

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 understand its use for the time being, ”says a spokesperson for the White House.

The next day, Saturday, the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announces that an “object unidentified” flying over northwestern Canada was shot down, in a joint operation between Washington and Ottawa.

Size and details

All 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 some kind of enormous nacelle 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, according to officials.

The head of the Democrats in the Senate, 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 appeared to have no 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. It was shot down in the Yukon, approximately 100 miles from the Canada-US border.

Both were flying at an altitude of approximately 12,000 meters and posed a possible threat to civilian flight safety, according to the authorities of the two 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. time.

Analysis of the debris

The American authorities are still busy collecting the remains of the Chinese balloon in the Atlantic, near the coasts of the South Carolina, using planes, boats and small submarines.

An FBI official, the agency responsible for examining them, recently reported that only a “small portion” of the surveillance equipment had been recovered.

It is being examined at Federal Police labs in Quantico, Washington. Virginia, 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 Saturday near the city American from Deadhorse. “Arctic weather conditions, including cold, snow and limited daylight, are a factor,” the military said.

Regarding the third object, Canadian forces “will now recover and analyze the debris,” according to Justin Trudeau.

Why these objects now?

According to specialists, US 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 that […] 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 stuff,” House Intelligence Committee member Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on Sunday.

The United States believes the ball 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 identify foreign military capabilities, ahead of a possible rise in tensions around Taiwan in the years to come.