U.S. response to Chinese ‘weather balloon’ came too late

Lindsay Giovannone, Columnist

On Saturday a Chinese balloon was spotted floating over Montana. The Pentagon stated that the balloon had been in U.S. airspace for “a couple of days” and was “attempting to survey strategic sites.” Chinese authorities insisted that the balloon is a “civilian airship” for weather research and was simply “affected by the westerly wind.”

Because a completely innocuous aircraft from a rival global power just accidentally floats across the Aleutians, down through Canada and near U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile bases. Right.

Lynn McMurdie, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, said that the balloon floating off course is “a plausible explanation” but “it’s preposterous [the Chinese] didn’t guess it would end up in North America.” It also simply doesn’t resemble a weather balloon. Most weather balloons are about twenty feet in diameter, but the Chinese balloon was estimated to be as big as 90 feet. Other key differences were the inordinate amount of equipment it was equipped with and its large distance of travel.

It was not until Saturday, five days after the balloon was first spotted, that it was shot down by an F-22 six nautical miles off the coast of South Carolina. President Biden approved a plan to shoot the balloon down Wednesday, but was told to wait by Pentagon officials who said there was a high risk the falling debris could “potentially cause civilian injuries or deaths or significant property damage.” The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard are in the process of recovering fallen debris, which has spread as far as seven miles.

The Beijing foreign ministry originally gave no indication of potential retaliation over the U.S. destroying the balloon saying, “China regrets that the airship strayed into the United States” and that they were planning to “maintain communication with the U.S. to properly handle the unexpected situation.” However, on Sunday, mere hours after the so-called weather balloon was shot down, China condemned the U.S. for using armed force, calling it “an excessive reaction that seriously violates international convention.”

At that point, destroying the balloon was arbitrary – it had already floated thousands of miles over the U.S. and collected data. Why not pop it over the remote Aleutian islands? This forces the question of what the Department of Defense’s $773 billion budget is going to; dealing with a balloon should not be a monumental task for a group with nearly one trillion dollars.
This instance should destroy the notion that the U.S. is untouchable and omnipotent. China flaunted its power by floating surveillance equipment the size of a blue whale across the U.S. for five days without any issues aside from the Department of Defense looking at it and President Biden saying he was “gonna take care of it.” The choice to shoot down the balloon was a great one, but it was executed too late.

The U.S. government should float a weather balloon over China and see how long it takes them to blow it out of the sky – presumably before it glides thousands of miles over their most sensitive intelligence sites.