What are Spy Balloons and Why are they Still in Use?

The Pentagon said on Thursday that it was monitoring a Chinese surveillance balloon that was flying across the US. 

Spy balloons have been used for decades and, according to experts, their usage is expected to grow in the future, even if they may not carry the same allure as a pinhole camera or arsenic concealed in a tooth.

What occurred Friday over the US?

Prior to US secretary of state Antony Blinken’s anticipated trip to Beijing, US sources stated a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon had been seen hovering over the country for a few days.

Although fighter planes were prepared, military officers cautioned President Joe Biden against firing the balloon out of the sky out of concern that flying debris may endanger his safety. Biden heeded their advice, according to US sources.

The balloon is now flying at a height considerably above commercial air traffic, according to a statement from the Pentagon, and it does not pose a military or physical threat to those on the ground.

Canada’s National Defence issued a statement later on Thursday stating that it was keeping an eye on a “possible second event.”

Spy Balloons

The term “modern spy balloon” refers to a piece of spy gear, such as a camera, hung underneath a balloon that flies above a certain region while being carried by wind currents. The apparatus that’s attached to the balloons may include solar power and radar.

Airliners seldom go higher than 12,000 meters, which is much beyond where balloons generally operate (24,000–37,000 meters, or 80,000–120,000 feet).

“Satellites have been standard equipment for the past few decades. John Blaxland, professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University and author of the book Revealing Secrets, claims that satellites were the solution. But there is a rebirth of interest in balloons now that lasers or kinetic weapons are being developed to target satellites. They are quicker to recover and considerably less expensive to launch than satellites, but they don’t provide the same amount of ongoing observation. A space launcher is required to put a satellite into orbit; this piece of machinery often costs hundreds of millions of dollars.”

According to a 2009 study to the US air force’s Air Command and Staff College, balloons can scan more regions from a lower altitude and spend a longer time over a specific location since they move more slowly than satellites.

Other Reports, Pentagon

According to the Pentagon, it is keeping track of a Chinese surveillance balloon that is flying above the US but has chosen not to shoot it down for safety concerns.

Defense authorities claimed that the balloon has been monitored ever since it recently entered US territory at a high height. It has been observed using a variety of techniques, including as crewed planes, and was most recently spotted traversing Montana, where the US maintains nuclear missile silos.

Flights from Billings Logan airport were halted on Wednesday out of an abundance of caution.