【AZ】 US Military finishes recovering Chinese balloon debris – Arizona News

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. has finished efforts to recover the remnants of the large balloon that was shot down off the coast of South Carolina, and analysis of the debris so far reinforces conclusions that it was a Chinese spy balloon, U.S. officials said Friday.

Officials said the U.S. believes that Navy, Coast Guard and FBI personnel collected all of the balloon debris off the ocean floor, which included key equipment from the payload that could reveal what information it was able to monitor and collect. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said a significant amount of debris was recovered and it included “electronics and optics” from the payload. He declined to say what, if anything, the U.S. has learned from the wreckage so far.

U.S. Northern Command said in a statement that the recovery operations ended Thursday and the final pieces are on their way to the FBI lab in Virginia for analysis. It said air and maritime restrictions off South Carolina have been lifted.

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United States Aerial Objects

Sailors on Feb. 10 prepare to transport to the FBI material recovered from the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C., after the shootdown of a Chinese high-altitude balloon, at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Va.

The announcement capped three dramatic weeks that saw U.S. fighter jets shoot down four airborne objects — the large Chinese balloon on Feb. 4 and three much smaller objects about a week later over Canada, Alaska and Lake Huron. They are the first known peacetime shootdowns of unauthorized objects in U.S. airspace.

The officials also said the search for the small airborne object that was shot down over Lake Huron stopped and nothing has been recovered. U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity. The U.S. and Canada also failed to recover any debris from the other two objects shot down over the Yukon and northern Alaska.

While the military is confident the balloon shot down off South Carolina was a surveillance airship operated by China, the Biden administration admitted the three smaller objects were likely civilian-owned balloons targeted after U.S. homeland defense radars were recalibrated to detect slower moving airborne items.

Due to their small size and the remote areas where they were shot down, officials acknowledge that recovering any debris is difficult and unlikely. Those last two searches, however, have not been formally called off.

United States Aerial Objects

FBI special agents on Feb. 9 process material recovered from the high-altitude balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina, at the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va.

Meanwhile, an Illinois hobby group is wondering if one of the downed objects might have been its radio-equipped balloon.

The Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade declared one of its exploratory “pico balloons” missing Wednesday, according to Aviation Week. Its last transmission came from 38,910 feet above the Alaskan coast on Feb. 10, headed toward the Yukon Territory. The next day, U.S. officials said an F-22 downed an object floating over that area at 40,000 feet.

Pico balloons seemingly bear a resemblance to the objects shot down over Alaska and Canada. They can be as cheap as $12, Aviation Week said. The missiles used to shoot down the unmanned balloons cost upward of $450,000.

Pico balloons are reportedly exempt from most Federal Aviation Administration airspace restrictions because they weigh fewer than six pounds.

“I’m guessing probably they were pico balloons,” hobbyist and Amateur Radio Roundtable host Tom Medlin told Aviation Week when discussing the fighter jets’ targets. He claims to have three balloons currently floating over two hemispheres.

Aviation Week unsuccessfully reached out to government agencies including North American Aerospace Defense Command to see if some of the downed objects may have been pico balloons and got no answers.

The Pentagon revealed it was tracking the suspected Chinese spy balloon for days from its launch site along China’s south coast.

Much of the Chinese balloon shot down by the U.S. fell into about 50 feet of water. The Navy was able to collect remnants floating on the surface, and divers and unmanned naval vessels pulled up the rest from the bottom of the ocean. Northern Command said Friday that all of the Navy and Coast Guard ships have left the area.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden directed national security adviser Jake Sullivan to lead an interagency team to establish “sharper rules” to track, monitor and potentially shoot down unknown aerial objects.

Meanwhile, key questions about the Chinese balloon remain unanswered, including what, if any, intelligence it was able to collect as it flew over sensitive military sites in the United States, and whether it was able to transmit anything back to China.

The U.S. tracked it for several days after it left China, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. It appears to have been blown off its initial trajectory, which was toward the U.S. territory of Guam, and flew over the continental U.S., the official said.

It’s unclear how much control China retained over the balloon. A second U.S. official said the balloon could have been externally maneuvered or directed to loiter over a specific target, but it’s unclear whether Chinese forces did so.

Balloons and other unidentified objects previously were spotted over Guam, a strategic hub for the U.S. Navy and Air Force in the western Pacific.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said Thursday a Chinese weather balloon landed on one of its outlying islands, amid U.S. accusations that such craft have been dispatched worldwide to spy on Washington and its allies. The ministry said the balloon carried equipment registered to a state-owned electronics company.

The Associated Press and New York Daily News contributed to this report.

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