United States Shoots Down Multiple Unidentified Objects Over American Airspace

What were the balloons doing over the U.S.?


Chase Doak, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Multiple flying objects, including one large balloon, some of Chinese origin, have been spotted and shot down over the United States and Canada this month, increasing tension between the US and China.

On February 4, 2023, a United States Air Force F-22 multi-role fighter aircraft shot down a flying balloon over US territorial waters off the coast of South Carolina. The military had been tracking the balloon, suspected to originate from China, for about a week since it entered U.S. airspace over Alaska. The balloon flew higher than most commercial aircraft, and was not a threat to people on the ground. The United States claimed the balloon was used for military surveillance, supposedly confirmed by high altitude fly-bys. China has maintained the balloon was intended for atmospheric study, but the U.S. claims the balloon had the ability to change course and loiter over sensitive areas like ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) launch sites and military bases. The U.S. military has recovered the debris.

In the weeks since, the United States and Canada have been tracking, intercepting, and downing unidentified objects over both countries, with three other objects being shot down: one over Alaska, another over Yukon Territory in Canada, and one over Michigan. The object over Alaska was shot down on February 10, by the same type of aircraft that shot down the balloon over South Carolina. The object over the Yukon was shot down by the US Air Force the day after, and the object over Michigan was shot down on February 12. Beijing has not claimed ownership of these objects. The US claims these objects were a threat to civil aviation, because they were flying around the same altitude as commercial airliners, and has used this as justification for downing them.

These downings of balloons come at a time of increased tension between the United States and China. These incidents have already negatively affected relations between the two countries, forcing the United States to cancel a visit between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Chinese government. These are yet another point of friction between the countries, at a time when the countries are already clashing in technology and economic and political influence.