Concerns have grown that China may reach the wreckage of their downed spy balloon before the US Navy as a salvage vessel won’t be on the scene for days.
US officials confirmed that an F-22 Raptor fighter jet shot down the balloon with a single AIM-9X sidewinder missile at 2.38pm on Saturday, six miles off the coast of South Carolina.
A senior military advisor told Fox News that the debris field was about seven-miles wide, with the depth of the waters estimated at 47 feet. While multiple Navy and Coast Guard vessels are in the area establishing a security and search perimeter, the senior advisor said an official salvage vessel won’t arrive until a couple of days.
There is currently no timeline on the recovery of the balloon from the Atlantic Ocean after its presence shocked the nation while it hovered over several nuclear silos before going down.
Footage of the jet shooting down the balloon showed the aircraft screaming towards it before firing a missile as stunned locals watched from the coast. President Joe Biden praised the Top Gun fighter jet pilot who shot it down, telling reporters: ‘I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible without doing damage to anyone on the ground.
‘They decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water.’ ‘They successfully took it down and I want to compliment our aviators who did it,’ the President added as he stepped off Air Force One en route to Camp David at Hagerstown Regional Airport, Maryland.
The Pentagon confirmed: ‘The balloon, which was being used by the People’s Republic of China in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States, was brought down above US territorial waters.’ Defense officials estimated the balloon was about the size of three buses and that the debris field would be substantial.
Biden first became aware of the balloon last Sunday, January 28, when it was spotted over Alaska. The US military tracked it over Canadian airspace and as it re-entered US territory on Tuesday.
The following day, Biden was given a detailed report on the aircraft and its course, attended by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.
Biden initially wanted to take it down but Milley and Austin argued the risk from falling debris was too great, sources revealed. Meanwhile, the administration went to the Chinese embassy for an explanation and continued making preparations for Blinken’s landmark diplomatic visit.
The administration finally told the public on Thursday after a local Montana paper, the Billings Gazette, published photos of the balloon. The Biden’s administration’s attempts to hide the blatant US airspace violation from the public for almost a week and inaction over the threat to national security have infuriated Republicans.
‘Communist China’s surveillance balloon violates international law and threatens our homeland,’ Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island) told The New York Post.
‘It’s an outrage that the Biden Administration spotted this balloon days ago as it was flying over the Aleutian Islands and did nothing about it,’ she said. ‘The president has not even made a comment about this unacceptable act of aggression by the CCP.’
The emergence of the spy aircraft comes on the heels of a classified report to Congress that outlined advanced new technology that US adversaries were harnessing to spy on the country. The report last month mentioned at least two incidents of a rival power conducting aerial surveillance with what appeared to be unknown cutting-edge technology, sources told The New York Times. (SOURCE)