We have all been witness to the recent news of a Chinese surveillance balloon that appeared over Montana. It has been a cause of concern for many, and rightfully so. But what can this balloon tell us about China’s operations and technology? What are the implications of this balloon’s presence in U.S. airspace? Read on to learn more about this unprecedented event and its implications for the U.S. and its relationship with China.
The Pentagon has confirmed the presence of a high-altitude surveillance balloon, first spotted by the public over Montana, hovering above Malmstrom Air Force Base. The U.S. uses the base to store nuclear weapons, and the balloon is roughly the size of three Greyhound buses and is carrying heavy surveillance equipment. China’s foreign ministry has admitted ownership of the balloon but insists that it is a civilian weather balloon that drifted off-course. A senior U.S. official has said the government remains certain “this was intentional.”
Matt McInnis, Senior Fellow for the Institute for the Study of War’s China program, compared the balloon to Cold War flights of U-2 spy planes. He said that while it’s understandable that Americans feel the government needs to do something, such as shoot down the balloon, the U.S. can use this opportunity to understand what these balloons can do.
Rebekah Koffler, President of Doctrine & Strategy Consulting and a former DIA intelligence officer, argued that any information or insights that the U.S. can glean from the balloon do not outweigh the damage caused by allowing a Chinese device to breach U.S. airspace. She explained that the balloon effectively provides a couple of different advantages to China that more conventional and expected spy methods might not, chiefly the ability to hover and collect data in addition to seeing what range of capabilities China can bring against the United States as it starts “preparing the battlefield.”
Koffler said the balloon could be collecting signals intelligence and communications coming out of military targets and facilities. She added that the fact that the U.S. did not pre-empt the balloon from entering U.S. airspace is significant to China, and that the balloon’s presence could encourage China to see “what else can they send.”
The U.S. sits in a delicate position with its stockpiles of missiles and munitions weakened following a year-long effort to supply Ukraine as it pushes back Russia’s invasion. Still, that effort may have left the U.S. strained – the perfect opportunity for China to test the capabilities of the single most significant deterrent to its plans to retake Taiwan.
The implications of the Chinese surveillance balloon that appeared over Montana remain to be seen, but one thing is certain: the U.S. must remain vigilant in its efforts to protect its sovereignty and maintain a strong relationship with China.