Believe the Chinese at Your Own Peril: CCP “Balloon Blown Off Course”

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  • Source: UncoverDC
  • 09/19/2023

The Chinese surveillance balloon now floating across the U.S. is not the first to be spotted, nor will it be the last. However, there are a number of mixed messages coming out of the Biden administration and public outrage is growing, mainly because the balloon is lingering over sensitive military facilities.

It seems the White House is in damage-control mode. Secretary of State Tony Blinken has just canceled his scheduled visit to Beijing, probably because of optics. Public speculation about China's mission is all over the map but their most recent official statement wants us to believe it's actually a "civilian airship" that "blew off course." It was an "unintended entry," they added.

Maybe it was blown off course but newsflash, nothing the Chinese do is "unintended." Moreover, it just isn't a believable statement given what we know about the non-existent transparency of the Chinese. Leave it to this administration to pretend it believes them. It's less likely the Chinese would do the same during a Trump administration.

And it is a lot less likely Trump's response would be mealy-mouthed if they did. In fact, he posted a succinct, "Shoot down the balloon", on Truth Social Friday morning.

Trump Shoot Down the Balloon/

Pentagon Tracks Chinese Balloon

Still, Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, stated the government continues to track the balloon, saying it is "currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground." He also stated such balloons have been sighted before and the U.S. has taken steps to prevent the collection of sensitive data. Ryder told reporters in his defense briefing that he has "made clear [to the Chinese] we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people and our homeland." Ryder also refused to give specifics about when this type of thing has happened before.

Nevertheless, the balloon floated above Montana for hours, prompting a letter from Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont. who wrote:

"The fact that this balloon was occupying Montana airspace creates significant concern that Malmstrom Air Force Base and the United States' intercontinental ballistic missile fields are the target of this intelligence gathering mission.

It is vital to establish the flight path of this balloon, any compromised U.S. national security assets, and all telecom or IT infrastructure on the ground within the U.S. that this spy balloon was utilizing."

Officials from the Pentagon advised the White House of its readiness to scramble fighter jets, including F-22s, should the White House give orders to do so. "All air traffic was halted at Montana's Billings Logan International Airport from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.," according to Wednesday, the military provided protective options to the White House. Ultimately, however, Pentagon officials decided the potential debris path from such action would be too dangerous for the people below.

Whether it was "blown off course" or not, the facts are the balloon has traversed airspace over multiple sensitive military facilities and continues to do so.


What Do We Know About Chinese Surveillance Balloons?

It is no surprise that there is a remarkable paucity of public information on what exactly is inside the Chinese weather balloon. A cursory search of the published research on what is inside these balloons and why the Chinese use them here yields very little information that is current. Science Direct has a series of abstracts on the topic of Chinese balloon technology, most of which were published in the late 80's and several from the 90's. There is some more recent discussion but most of it speaks to the technical aspects of "detection of vertical atmospheric profiles" with regard to weather and climate forecasting. The best information given on the subject merely speaks to intentions to increase their payload, improvements in "telemetry & tracking and telecommand facilities," enlarging lift gas storage, and increasing the "carrying capacity of the recovery parachute."

Time magazine asks the question; why use balloons when satellites exist? Perhaps their question tracks with the reasons defense officials say they are not particularly concerned about the "spy balloon." It may, in part, have to do with the fact that balloons are "harder to detect with radar." They are also able to travel at lower altitudes and can "spend more time over a given area." According to Time:

"China has an extensive satellite network. In a Nov. 2022 report, the Defense Department said China's intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance-capable (ISR) satellite fleet had more than 260 systems, second only to the U.S., as of the end of 2021. A senior defense official noted on Thursday that, for China, the balloon flying over Montana "has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective.

Yet even with satellite technology surpassing some abilities of balloons, James Char, a research fellow with the China Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, tells TIME that spy balloons have some operational advantages. For example, balloons can weather extreme conditions, he says, and are less expensive to deploy and operate compared to satellites. Chinese Academy of Science scholars found in 2020 that, despite harsh environments at more than 68,000 feet above ground, "the high-altitude balloon has long endurance time, which can achieve sustained and wider coverage for regional observation and detection."

Politico asked Tom Karako, senior fellow for the International Security Program and Missile Defense Project director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, why "high altitude inflatables" would be "added to the Pentagon's extensive surveillance network and could eventually be used to track hypersonic weapons." High altitude balloons, said Karako, are "trucks for any number of platforms, whether it be communication and data link nodes, ISR, tracking air and missile threats—and without the predictable orbits of satellites."

In the world of national defense, context often matters. The Communist Chinese are nothing if not strategic and patient. It is silly to discount events that, in a discrete moment in time, appear to be disconnected. Underestimate their long game at your peril. Keeping that concept in mind, during this same period, the AP reported Taiwan scrambled its air defenses in response to Chinese "incursions."

"Taiwan scrambled fighter jets, put its navy on alert and activated missile systems in response to nearby operations by 34 Chinese military aircraft and nine warships that are part Beijing's strategy to unsettle and intimidate the self-governing island democracy.

The large-scale Chinese deployment came as Beijing increases preparations for a potential blockade or military action against Taiwan that have stirred increasing concern among military leaders, diplomats and elected officials in the U.S., Taiwan's key ally."

What are Experts Saying?

Recently, Air Mobility Command General Michael Minihan sent a memo to his troops stating he "hopes [he's] wrong" when he stated the U.S. will "fight in 2025" with China. The Pentagon is allegedly "distancing itself" from his statement, according to an article from the Air and Space Forces Command. "'These comments are not representative of the department's view on China,' a defense official said in comments emailed to Air & Space Forces Magazine on Jan. 28.'" Additionally, Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder recognized the threat stating it will be "the pacing challenge for the Dept. of Defense" while also saying the U.S. "is working alongside allies and partners to preserve a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific."

In a word, the messaging is all over the map, which does not bode well for quelling fear in the minds of the American people. Whatever the reasons for the surveillance are, John Blaxland, professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University, says, "Over somebody else's atmosphere, you are required to seek permission." Blaxland speculated that the Chinese expect they will be caught but "being caught was probably the goal, with two outcomes in mind. The first reason the balloon was launched," he believes, "Was to embarrass the U.S., and all the better if it captured some intelligence along the way." Blaxland added:

"It's hard to think how they could have thought that it wouldn't have been detected. American airspace is so closely studied, by the U.S. civil aviation authorities, by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Space Force, the weather networks—it's extremely scrutinised airspace."

"The second reason is to make the U.S. aware of the fact that China has been secretly keeping up with its technology and replicating it," wrote The Guardian. "Chinese security agencies are masterful at copycat behaviour. They're very, very good at establishing what technology is and then seeking to replicate it," Blaxland continued.

UncoverDC contacted Col. Don Jenkins to ask whether he thinks this balloon is merely a weather collection asset. Jenkins held both intelligence and aviation credentials and was commissioned in the Military Intelligence Corps. Colonel Jenkins has had assignments in the U.S. and overseas in intelligence and aerial collection units. He also has extensive experience within the U.S. Defense Department Intelligence, Security, and Aviation Systems. He responded with the following:

"In response to your query concerning a Chinese wx (weather) balloon. The pentagon response is sophomoric. I don't know the dimensions or structure of the balloon, but by design, it can't have much of a structure that a High Explosive (HE) or thermite warhead could not almost 100% destroy it before any sizable piece actually reached the ground. Given it is currently in a remote area, the risk is minimal. If it isn't destroyed, there will be more and more of them in the days to come. Not destroying it, given it has invaded our airspace, is an act of war."

Jenkins's suspicion that it is not the typical foray into U.S. airspace was, he said, confirmed in a Daily Wire column paraphrasing Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder's thoughts on the matter, "While this has happened in the past, according to the official, this time is not the same because the device is maintaining its presence over the country for more time than is typical." Jenkins added that he believes, "It is obviously doing more than collecting wx data. This balloon is an intelligence collection asset (that may also be collecting wx data for plausible deniability purposes). The sentence cited [in the Daily Wire column] confirms to me such to be the case."

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