A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor shot down a Chinese ‘spy balloon’ using an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin said.
US President Biden ordered the action but it was deferred until the balloon was over water off the coast of South Carolina to confirm no citizens on the ground were impacted.
“The balloon, which was being used by the PRC (China) in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States, was brought down above U.S. territorial waters,” Austin said.
The action was taken in coordination and support of the Canadian government. “We thank Canada for its contribution to tracking and analysis of the balloon through [North American Aerospace Defense Command] as it transited North America,” Austin said.
“Today’s deliberate and lawful action demonstrates that President Biden and his national security team will always put the safety and security of the American people first while responding effectively to the PRC’s unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Austin said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
While Chinese officials admitted that the balloon was theirs, they said it was a runaway weather balloon.
“The PRC has claimed publicly that the high-altitude balloon operating above the United States is a weather balloon that was blown off course. This is false,” the official said. “This was a PRC surveillance balloon. This surveillance balloon purposely traversed the United States and Canada, and we are confident it was seeking to monitor sensitive military sites.”
The mission now transitions to one of recovery. There are a number of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels establishing a security perimeter around the area where the balloon came to Earth. They are searching for debris, said a senior military official also speaking on background.
There is no estimate for how long the recovery mission will take, the military official said, but the fact that it came down in such a shallow area should make a recovery “fairly easy.”
The F-22 fired the Sidewinder missile at the PRC balloon from an altitude of 58,000 feet. The balloon at the time was between 60,000 and 65,000 feet. F-15 Eagles flying from Barnes Air National Guard Base supported the F-22, as did tankers from multiple states. This was supposedly the first kill for the ‘mighty’ F-22 Raptor.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has expressed concerns over the shooting down of the balloon by a US fighter aircraft off the coast of South Carolina.
“The Chinese side expresses its strong disapproval and protest against force used by the US to attack a civilian unmanned airship. China has repeatedly notified the US side earlier after the check that the airship is intended for civilian use and entered the US [airspace] because of a force majeure. This was an absolutely unforeseen situation,” the Ministry said.
China reserves the right to the required further response and will decisively protect its lawful rights and interests, the Ministry added.