What you see in the media is never the full story. The United States is upgrading our nuclear ICBMs by replacing the 50-year old Minuteman missiles for the new, Northrup Grumman Sentinel. They are being placed at bases in Montana, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska. China is also upgrading their ground based nuclear missiles in an effort to reach nuclear parity with the United States. Our two super powers have been in a silent, and deadly, nuclear jiu-jitsu match for years but mostly out of public sight.

China took this bold step because they are threatened, and they feel the information collected would be worth the risk of an American reprisal.

In 2022, China launched a record 64 satellites into orbit including over a dozen of the Yaogan-36 intelligence gathering systems. These satellites are placed 300 miles in orbit and transit the earth every 19 hours. They provide excellent imagery, but they are not able to observe one location for extended periods of time. But a balloon could.

The Chinese launched their spy balloon with SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) equipment to vacuum all of our radio signals, cell phone conversations, Internet traffic, radar signals, and communication signals while the Sentinels were under construction. The data will be used to determine the location of radio transmitters, locating hidden communication networks, identifying the types of radar systems in use, and monitoring communication networks.  It can also process the captured signals to extract additional information, such as encrypted messages or signals from a specific target.

The Chinese military will use the information gathered to identify our new capabilities, communication networks, reactions and weapons systems. They will also use it to observe to see if our defenses are fully operational during this transitional period. Finally, it will be used for precise targeting data that would be used to execute effective attacks.

Why didn’t we shoot it down earlier?

To learn and to manipulate. We likely used our RC-135 Rivet Joints and RQ-4 Global Hawk drones with their own SIGINT packages to vacuum up how the Chinese were using the balloon.  The military, knowing it was being observed, would have fed the Chinese with false information in a data deception. By providing incorrect information, it would make it more difficult for the Chinese to know our actual capabilities.

Spy Balloon Recovery

A silent and elaborate plan was created to recover the SIGINT package intact for study. The plan was to bring the balloon down before reaching international waters. The Air Force used an F-22 from Langley AFB with an AIM-9x missile. While the base missile has been around for decades, this variant now allows the pilot to launch the missile and simply look at his target to impact. The flight’s call sign was “Frank 01” as an homage to World War I ace Frank Luke Jr., known as “the Arizona Balloon Buster” for destroying German observation balloons. The AIM-9x pierced the balloon 6-miles off the South Carolina coast and the deflated balloon slowed the SIGINT platform’s descent into the ocean where it landed in 100 feet of water on the Blake Plateau.

The Navy’s USS Carter Hall (LSD-Landing Ship Dock)’s mission was to recover the SIGINT platform intact. The Navy has its own set of autonomous UUVs (Unmanned Underwater Vehicles) that it would use to locate and inspect the submerged platform. In addition, the Navy has been looking for a reason to test their new Exosuit which allows a person to descend and operate in depths approaching 1,000 feet underwater.

#Spy Balloon Backstory   #Spy Balloon Espionage