UPDATED: Original story has been modified.
According to sources, Canadian officials had been tracking a large Chinese balloon since last weekend as it passed through Canadian airspace. The balloon had passed over the Canadian Arctic, Alberta and Saskatchewan before being spotted over Montana, as it flew over a nuclear launch site. It was reportedly tracked the entire time it was in Canadian airspace.
“Canadians are safe and Canada is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident,” the National Defence Department said in a statement.
The said surveillance balloons, believed to have originated from China, have been observed to hover over Canada and the United States. The US Department of Defense, on the other hand, decided to let the balloon float rather than shoot it down. Which was later shot down on Saturday afternoon.
Originally,the non-action, from both countries gained critical reactions from observers, some of whom are calling out their respective governments.
In a Twitter exchange, an account who claims to be tracking aircrafts is adamant on why Canada didn’t shoot down the surveillance balloon as it already violated the country’s airspace.
“They flew right through the #ADIZ that the media get their bloomers in a bunch about when the Russians fly antiques through, and VIOLATED American and Canadian airspace, which the Russians never do, and the Chinese continue to do; did I get that right? What a bunch of bullsh*t,” Twitter user Steffan Watkins wrote.
“Would anyone like to ask [Minister of Defence Anita Anand] to explain to Canadians why we had a foreign military spy balloon flying over Canada, a clear violation of our sovereignty, at the end of January, and the [Air Force and NORAD] didn’t shoot it down? What exactly is going on?” he added.
However, another user pointed out that “controlled airspace is different than sovereign airspace,” in such that the sovereign airspace extends up to the edge of the atmosphere. But if the presence of the military aircraft is exoatmospheric, it doesn’t violate the nation’s sovereignty.
China: It’s a civilian airship
Amid the reports of Chinese spy balloons hovering North America, Beijing clarified that the aircraft is “a civilian airship.”
“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It also added that it regrets the “unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure.”
Blinken postpones China trip
Nevertheless, following the spy balloon incident, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has canceled a trip to China that was scheduled to begin on Friday.
According to ABC News, Blinken did not want to exaggerate the situation by postponing his visit, but he also did not want the balloon incident to dominate his meetings with Chinese authorities.
Air Force Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Thursday that the government was tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental United States and that it was “traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”
US military officers debated shooting down the balloon over Montana on Wednesday, but President Joe Biden decided against it due to the safety danger posed by debris, according to US officials on Thursday.
According to one US official, the balloon has “little additive value from an intelligence collection standpoint.” When the balloon entered US airspace, the US took “custody” of it and inspected it with piloted US military aircraft.
The balloon danger
At the height of World War II, Japan was able to launch over 9,000 balloon bombs across the western United States and Canada. After studying balloon parts and bomb casing fragments, it was figured out that the balloon design helped it drift along the then-newly discovered fast moving jet stream at an average elevation of 30,000 feet.
The attention of the military and civilian defense personnel from around the West were rapidly drawn to the balloons. There were around 342 balloon bombing incidents registered in both countries.
Japanese radio propaganda lauded the balloon bombs as very effective, claiming that they killed thousands. In reality, the balloons disrupted routines as officials pursued down sightings and reports, but they did not produce the widespread fires or panic that the Japanese had predicted. Most Americans were unaware of the balloon bombs until after the war.
The US Naval Institute meanwhile hearkened back to history when a crew of the USS New York in 1945 kept on shooting a sphere they saw in space, only to find out later that they were trying to shoot the planet Venus.
UPDATED: The original story covered reports that there was a second balloon, which turned out to be inaccurate. Thus the original article has been modified.
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