US calculations before shooting down Chinese airships

The US has not used a fighter to shoot down a device believed to be a Chinese spy balloon to avoid creating a bad precedent as well as unnecessary controversy.

Pentagon officials announced on February 2 that the United States had detected a spy device believed to be a Chinese airship in its airspace and was tracking its movement over the past few days. Observers see this as a development that could increase tensions in Beijing-Washington relations, which are going through many ups and downs.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled his visit to China for the first time in his term after the Pentagon released information about the spy balloon. US officials have been in contact with China through embassies in Washington and Beijing.

However, the US response remained at the diplomatic level. President Joe Biden, after receiving consultations from military leaders, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, decided not to order the shooting down of the spy balloon, although the US military has deployed injections. stealth fighter F-22 to be ready to perform the mission.

The Chinese hot air balloon appeared in the sky over Billings, Montana, USA, on February 1.  Photo: AFP.

The Chinese hot air balloon appeared in the sky over Billings, Montana, USA, on February 1. Image: AFP.

Some Republican congressmen have voiced support for the option to shoot down the Chinese airship, but US military officials say this measure has “benefits and disadvantages”.

“We considered shooting down on February 1, when the balloon was flying over a sparsely populated area of ​​Montana. However, the risk from the debris to civilians below was too high for us to be able to do that. peace of mind to give the order to fire,” Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder told reporters.

The risk that the balloon poses to civil aviation is negligible, because it flies much higher than the traffic zone of passenger planes. According to Ryder, the airship’s reconnaissance devices do not offer any superior advantages over other equipment that China “may be using to gather information” in the US, such as satellites flying in the US. low religion.

Meanwhile, US intelligence could also gain valuable information during the tracking of the balloon and the spy devices that could be mounted on it, instead of destroying it.

Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz said the US military should disable enemy surveillance equipment if the intelligence community perceives the risk as too great. However, in the event of a minor security concern, the United States should not consider brute force and may consider confiscating the equipment.

According to Gaetz, if the US rushes to shoot down the balloon, the US could spark unnecessary tension with China regarding the “legitimate right to operate in the air”. This congressman likened this to an “intelligence trap” that China set up to lure the US into and stir up controversy over aerial surveillance.

According to analyst Aaron Blake of Washington Post, aerial reconnaissance is still a sensitive issue in the intelligence industry of countries. While most espionage exists in secrecy and will never be acknowledged by the parties if discovered, aerial spying is an activity that is legalized by agreement.

The United States, Russia and many other countries signed the “Open Skies” treaty in 1992, allowing the parties to use unarmed aircraft to operate in each other’s airspace to gather intelligence.

The idea is to control strategic skepticism and reduce the risk of conflict between major military powers since the end of the Cold War. Countries that carry out flights under the “Open Skies” treaty must plan and notify the remaining parties in advance.

From the treaty’s entry into force in 2002 to 2016, the US conducted 196 overt surveillance flights over Russian airspace, while Russia organized 71 flights over US airspace. By 2020, the Donald Trump administration will withdraw the US from the treaty, accusing Russia of not complying with the original terms. Moscow later also abandoned the agreement.

President Biden has opposed Trump’s decision, but so far has not signaled that he wants to revive the “Open Skies” treaty, due to the escalation of US-Russian tensions over the Ukraine conflict.

Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder speaks at a press conference on January 17 in Washington, USA.  Photo: AP.

Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder speaks at a press conference on January 17 in Washington, USA. Image: AP.

China has never come to the negotiating table with the United States on a similar agreement, but that does not mean that the two countries do not conduct spying activities on each other.

In 2001, a US Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet off Hainan Island, forcing an emergency landing on Chinese territory. In 2016, Chinese fighter jets repeatedly approached US spy planes operating in the East China Sea.

The Pentagon’s 2022 budget document also outlines the idea of ​​increasing the use of spy balloons to track hypersonic weapons that China and Russia are developing, reducing the cost of satellite surveillance.

According to Congressman Gaetz, in the event that the US shoots down a spy balloon on the ground that the device is flying in its national airspace, China will have a precedent for how to behave in similar cases.

“If we set a precedent like that, the situation risks escalating very quickly,” he warned.

Meanwhile, China also quickly gave an explanation, saying that this balloon “was lost in the US due to a force majeure incident”, and claimed it was a civilian device “for meteorological research”. and other scientific activities”.

“China will continue to maintain communication with the US side to properly handle this incident,” China’s foreign ministry said. The US has not commented on the above interpretation.

Name (Theo Washington Post)

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