The U.S. military ends search for the objects shot down near Deadhorse, Alaska and over Lake Huron, while recovering a Chinese spy balloon. Northern Command officials said that they conducted systematic searches of each area but could not locate any debris. Consequently, the air and maritime safety perimeters at both sites have been lifted.
This announcement comes hours after officials confirmed that they had finished efforts to recover the remnants of the large balloon that was shot down on February 4 off the coast of South Carolina. The U.S. believes that the balloon was a Chinese spy balloon, and key equipment from the payload that could reveal what information it was able to monitor and collect has been recovered. The recovered debris included “electronics and optics” from the payload. However, the U.S. has not disclosed what they have learned so far from the wreckage.
U.S. Northern Command stated that recovery operations ended on Thursday and the final pieces are on their way to the FBI lab in Virginia for analysis. Meanwhile, air and maritime restrictions off South Carolina have been lifted.
The recent events have been significant, as they mark the first known peacetime shootdowns of unauthorized objects in U.S. airspace. The U.S. fighter jets shot down four airborne objects, including the large Chinese balloon on February 4, and three smaller objects a week later over Canada, Alaska, and Lake Huron. While the military is confident that the balloon shot down off South Carolina was a Chinese-operated surveillance airship, the three smaller objects were likely civilian-owned balloons that were targeted during the heightened response after U.S. homeland defense radars were recalibrated to detect slower-moving airborne items.
President Joe Biden directed national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Thursday to lead an interagency team to establish “sharper rules” to track, monitor, and potentially shoot down unknown aerial objects.
Meanwhile, the recovered Chinese spy balloon raises important questions about 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. had tracked it for several days after it left China, and it appears to have been blown off its initial trajectory towards the U.S. territory of Guam and flown over the continental U.S.
It is still unclear how much control China retained over the balloon once it veered from its original trajectory. 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.
While U.S. military Ends search, the recent events highlight the U.S. military’s efforts to protect U.S. airspace and national security. China have also accused US for at least 10 such balloons violated Chinese airspace in a year. With the recovery of the Chinese spy balloon, the U.S. is now poised to learn more about China’s potential activities and capabilities in the area of aerial espionage.