Chinese "weather" balloon shoot-down over US

In summary: Russians and Chinese. In summary, the Chinese government said that this weather balloon was a research balloon, but it was shot down with an AIM-9X missile. The missile cost several hundred thousand dollars, and the balloon was less useful than that because it didn't have any countermeasures.
  • #1
Ivan Seeking
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Balloon shot down.

It sounds like we do plan to retrieve it. They shot it down before it was over international waters.

[Thread split off from the Weird News thread]
 
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  • #2
They [former military/defense talking heads] say that even if there was a serious effort for the balloon to spy on sensitive sites, we likely jammed any attempts to collect information. But now we are claiming that we gathered useful information about the technology on the balloon.
 
  • #3
CNN is reporting that an AIM-9X missle was used. Why would you use a heat-seeking missle to shoot down an engineless balloon that is at the same temperature as the background?

AIM-9X.png
 
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  • #4
Ivan Seeking said:
They [former military/defense talking heads] say that even if there was a serious effort for the balloon to spy on sensitive sites, we likely jammed any attempts to collect information. But now we are claiming that we gathered useful information about the technology on the balloon.

Which could be tricky. While you are jamming it and collecting information about it, hopefully it/or they (with other means) aren't gathering information about how you jam signals and gather information, which resources you use to do it with, and where those resources are based. Further, you hope it isn't gathering information about your strategy to prevent them from being able to gather information about how you gather information.
 
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  • #5
berkeman said:
CNN is reporting that an AIM-9X missle was used. Why would you use a heat-seeking missle to shoot down an engineless balloon that is at the same temperature as the background?

View attachment 321759
Because it's more than just heat seeking.
 
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  • #6
Why does the title refer to it as a "weather" balloon?
 
  • #7
boneh3ad said:
Why does the title refer to it as a "weather" balloon?
Because that's what the Chinese government <cough> said it was. I'll add quotes to make the implication more obvious.
 
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  • #8
boneh3ad said:
Because it's more than just heat seeking.
That would make sense. Can you say what the alternate targeting mechanism is? Something like a laser-guided munition? I guess you could guide it in with a medium power IR laser illumination?
 
  • #9
berkeman said:
That would make sense. Can you say what the alternate targeting mechanism is? Something like a laser-guided munition? I guess you could guide it in with a medium power IR laser illumination?

According to this (generally a good source) it has a laser proximity fuse and can also be guided remotely by the F-22 based on radar.

https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zo...hinese-spy-balloon-off-carolinas-with-missile
 
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  • #10
boneh3ad said:
According to this (generally a good source) it has a laser proximity fuse and can also be guided remotely by the F-22 based on radar.

https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zo...hinese-spy-balloon-off-carolinas-with-missile
Ah thanks.

But then there's this from that report:
Videos of the shootdown showed an F-22 Raptor launching an air-to-air missile at the balloon for the kill. This would be the F-22's first 'kill.'
That's embarassing, IMO. They should have just used an F-16 or similar fighter to shoot down the highly maneuverable balloon...
 
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  • #11
They may have just used this as a training exercise for the new plane. If China is going to send you target practice, you take it.
 
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  • #12
berkeman said:
Ah thanks.

But then there's this from that report:

That's embarassing, IMO. They should have just used an F-16 or similar fighter to shoot down the highly maneuverable balloon...
F-16s can't fly high enough. F-22s have the highest service ceiling of US fighters.
 
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  • #13
Office_Shredder said:
They may have just used this as a training exercise for the new plane. If China is going to send you target practice, you take it.
Those missiles cost several hundred thousand dollars each.
 
  • #15
Frabjous said:
Those missiles cost several hundred thousand dollars each.

That is pocket change for the military. They spend more on donuts.
 
  • #16
Frabjous said:
Those missiles cost several hundred thousand dollars.

So? They're worthless if they don't work in a live fire environment. It's always good to confirm they do.

The air force surely shoots a bunch of them every year for training. Do you think this was less useful in that capacity?
 
  • #17
Office_Shredder said:
So? They're worthless if they don't work in a live fire environment. It's always good to confirm they do.

The air force surely shoots a bunch of them every year for training. Do you think this was less useful in that capacity?
I have not heard that the balloon had countermeasures, so it seems like overkill.
I fear that the missile was more expensive than the balloon.
 
  • #18
Office_Shredder said:
So? They're worthless if they don't work in a live fire environment. It's always good to confirm they do.

The air force surely shoots a bunch of them every year for training. Do you think this was less useful in that capacity?
Ideally, every dime of our $750 Billion+ military budget goes towards nothing but testing!
 
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  • #19
Frabjous said:
I have not heard that the balloon had countermeasures, so it seems like overkill.
I fear that the missile was more expensive than the balloon.

It depends on what the balloon was carrying. Reportedly, the balloon was about 120 feet in diameter and might carry a payload of around a ton.

We needed to shoot it down to determine what it was carrying. The information is what has value, not so much the balloon itself.
 
  • #20
Frabjous said:
I have not heard that the balloon had countermeasures, so it seems like overkill.
I fear that the missile was more expensive than the balloon.

But again, we probably shoot like 10,000 missiles a year at nothing, just to let people see what it's like to shoot a missile. How is this worse?

I also just don't think there are that many options to shoot something down at 60,000 feet. It probably cost as much just to get the fighter up there as it cost to shoot the missile.
 
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  • #21
One example of where this might be sensitive is in regard to low power communications from places like Malmstrom AFB [nuclear weapons base], which the balloon passed fairly closely. Apparently, those communications systems are designed to prevent being monitored by satellites. But something like a balloon [much lower altitude] might carry equipment that could detect those transmissions. The Chinese could have been testing to see if they could detect those transmissions.
 
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  • #22
Ivan Seeking said:
But now we are claiming that we gathered useful information about the technology on the balloon.
Probably did.

Even if nothing else,, it tells ths US what Chinese technology is and is not capable of. "Hey Joe, wnere's the frabulator?" "I guess they don't know about the frabulator."

It also tells what the Chinese are interested in. Photography? Radio? Both? Neither?

As of yesterday, the statement was that the balloon would not be shot down. I wonder why things changed.

Also China and the US do not share a border. This balloon must have passed over Canadian and likely Russian airspace. I wonder what Ottowa and Moscow think of this.
 
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  • #23
Vanadium 50 said:
Probably did.

Even if nothing else,, it tells ths US what Chinese technology is and is not capable of. "Hey Joe, wnere's the frabulator?" "I guess they don't know about the frabulator."

It also tells what the Chinese are interested in. Photography? Radio? Both? Neither?

As of yesterday, the statement was that the balloon would not be shot down. I wonder why things changed.

Alsol China and the US do not share a border. This balloon must have passed over Canadian and likely Russian airspace. I wonder what Ottowa and Moscow think of this.
The WH is claiming that last Wednesday, Biden ordered it shot down as soon as it could be done safely.
 
  • #24
Vanadium 50 said:
As of yesterday, the statement was that the balloon would not be shot down.
I understood the US government's position to be "the balloon will not be shot down YET".
 
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  • #26
There's a lot of land between Montana and South Carolina. I;m surprised this was the first opportunity. Especially given that Montana is not exactly the most populous state.
 
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  • #27
Vanadium 50 said:
There's a lot of land between Montana and South Carolina. I;m surprised this was the first opportunity. Especially given that Montana is not exactly the most populous state.
I was thinking the same thing.

Maybe they were worried about the potential payload.
 
  • #28
Vanadium 50 said:
There's a lot of land between Montana and South Carolina. I;m surprised this was the first opportunity. Especially given that Montana is not exactly the most populous state.
Well, it flew over my state of Kansas. I'm glad they didn't shoot it down here.
 
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  • #29
I was kind of hoping we could figure a way to just quietly deflate the balloon and catch it on the way down, or as it hit the water. So that it would just disappear, to be studied at our leisure, with everyone wondering if we had it or not.
 
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  • #30
Vanadium 50 said:
There's a lot of land between Montana and South Carolina. I;m surprised this was the first opportunity. Especially given that Montana is not exactly the most populous state.
Official statement was that it wasn't worth the risk, but I would have preferred it too.
 
  • #31
Vanadium 50 said:
There's a lot of land between Montana and South Carolina. I;m surprised this was the first opportunity. Especially given that Montana is not exactly the most populous state.
They were not taking ANY chances. I mean, can't you just see the headline "Murderous DOD slaughters innocent farmer's favorite cow !" :smile:
 
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  • #32
russ_watters said:
Official statement was that it wasn't worth the risk, but I would have preferred it too.
I suspect the official statement is only a half truth. Yes the risk of impacting people on the ground is higher, but I'd guess a bigger reason is that recovery would be more difficult.

Even in a sparsely populated area, shooting it down over land would mean some local yahoos are going to come looking for souvenirs, and it's difficult to secure large swaths of land.

I think it's also possible we were tracking it but considered it a low threat, so why divulge sensitive capabilities?
 
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  • #33
First, some bad news for Don. Nobody in DC gives a hoot about Kansas. They call it "flyover country". I suspect a good number of them think the whole state is in black and white. Whatever the rationale, it was not "protecting Kansans."

I agree that shooting it down over water means you don
t have to deal with lookie-loos, or "yahoos" as they have been called upthread, but if you shoot it down over water, then it's over water,. Recovery is not so easy, especially if you want important litte tiny parts.

The Canadian response was less outraged than I would have guessed. I am surprised it wasn't more along the lines of "whatever disagreements you have with the Americans does not give you the right to violate sovereign Canadian airspace." Now, I expect the Chinese don't give a hoot about that, but am still surprised pf the reaction. Maybe it's related to my first paragraph: the Prairie Provinces are to Ottowa as Kansas is to Washington.

As far as a dangerous payload, the Chinese are not stupid enough to do that.

It's interesting that the Chinese are hopping mad and even threatening retaliation. The US position could well be "Golly, you said yourself it was out of control. Can't leave a hazard to navigation out there. Why that would be irresponsible."
 
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  • #34
It's in <50 feet of water. So, it is fairly easy to retrieve. One person estimated that terminal velocity may have been around 500 mph. This assumes the payload weighs about a ton. The debris field is about 7 miles long [according to Pete Buttigieg].

Chinese bluster doesn't worry me a bit.
 
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  • #35
Vanadium 50 said:
First, some bad news for Don. Nobody in DC gives a hoot about Kansas. They call it "flyover country". I suspect a good number of them think the whole state is in black and white. Whatever the rationale, it was not "protecting Kansans."

I agree that shooting it down over water means you don
t have to deal with lookie-loos, or "yahoos" as they have been called upthread, but if you shoot it down over water, then it's over water,. Recovery is not so easy, especially if you want important litte tiny parts.

The Canadian response was less outraged than I would have guessed. I am surprised it wasn't more along the lines of "whatever disagreements you have with the Americans does not give you the right to violate sovereign Canadian airspace." Now, I expect the Chinese don't give a hoot about that, but am still surprised pf the reaction. Maybe it's related to my first paragraph: the Prairie Provinces are to Ottowa as Kansas is to Washington.

As far as a dangerous payload, the Chinese are not stupid enough to do that.

It's interesting that the Chinese are hopping mad and even threatening retaliation. The US position could well be "Golly, you said yourself it was out of control. Can't leave a hazard to navigation out there. Why that would be irresponsible."
It's likely faux outrage and the target audience is their own people and any sympathetic people internationally. They know we have the balloon and can easily tell if it really is a weather balloon (unlikely), but that won't get reported everywhere. It's all theater.
 
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