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.
  • #71
*****The Chinese have >500 nuclear warheads, many on ICBMs*******

What is Soooo Terrifying about a large balloon? Am I missing a fundamental point here? Is there a balloon gap? Is this some wierd theatre?
 
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  • #72
hutchphd said:
Is there a balloon gap?
I think the gap was because we did not have any way to bring down the balloon from 60k' in a controlled way so it could be grounded right after it was detected. All we had was fighter jets with missiles, so had to wait until over water. But as @boneh3ad says, part of that wait may have been useful as well.
 
  • #73
hutchphd said:
*****The Chinese have >500 nuclear warheads, many on ICBMs*******

What is Soooo Terrifying about a large balloon? Am I missing a fundamental point here? Is there a balloon gap? Is this some wierd theatre?
There is the issue that the US has not been detecting them. It is not clear if this has been addressed or if the US was just lucky this time. This has counterforce implications.
 
  • #74
I just saw this in the Lame Jokes thread, posted by @nsaspook and couldn't resist cross-posting it here. :smile:

spy balloon.png
 
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  • #75
berkeman said:
I think the gap was because we did not have any way to bring down the balloon from 60k' in a controlled way so it could be grounded right after it was detected.
If it is such a threat just shoot it down. Big airplanes crash at high lateral speed and usually do little human damage unless over a city.
In the big scheme of things this just seems nuts. So we need an anti-balloon system? Can I get a piece of that development money?
 
  • #76
hutchphd said:
Can I get a piece of that development money?
Now would seem to be a good time to apply! :smile:
 
  • #77
berkeman said:
Now would seem to be a good time to apply! :smile:
From https://business.defense.gov/Work-with-us/Guide-to-working-with-DoD/

It typically takes at least 18 months of planning before a government contractor wins their first contract. Plan to invest significant time and resources becoming procurement ready, identifying potential opportunities, marketing to potential clients, developing proposals, implementing your first DoD contract and complying with DoD rules.
 
  • #78
hutchphd said:
What is Soooo Terrifying about a large balloon? Am I missing a fundamental point here? Is there a balloon gap? Is this some wierd theatre?
Who is terrified? The Chinese sent a spy device and violated our airspace.

I see some media claiming people are terrified, but I have seen no such thing in fact. People made a bit of a thing to watch for it for fun. And we want to know what the Chinese hoped to accomplish.

The only useful spying it could do that a satellite couldn't that's I've heard about, is to monitor low-power transmissions used for our nuclear weapons systems - too weak for a satellite to detect. That is a bit bothersome. In a worst case it could be a prelude to nuclear war. But they have to know we would jam any potential signals... unless they hoped to sneak it in.
 
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  • #80
boneh3ad said:
The issue of nukes is irrelevant.
Not according to Leon Panetta - former secretary of Defense
 
  • #81
In fact your own source says what I just said

Tom Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said one benefit of these balloons is their ability to hover closer to the ground than satellites, and they may be able to intercept communication or electronic signals that orbiting systems can’t.
 
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  • #82
My fear is, that it is part of the preparation to deal with the Taiwan issue. It could have served multiple goals in this respect:
  • reaction time
  • severeness of reactions
  • spying facilities in the northwest
  • testing jet streams relevant for potential fallouts
  • and what else might be relevant for military personal
 
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  • #83
Ivan Seeking said:
Not according to Leon Panetta - former secretary of Defense
I haven't seen whatever he said. I suppose you could put a nuke on a balloon and it would be harder to detect but easier to shoot down than an ICBM.

Also, if a country decided to openly nuclearize a balloon, it immediately means they can't use balloons for other more useful purposes because everyone would assume it's a nuclear attack and retaliate. It's the same reason we don't have conventional ICBMs and why the US isn't planning to develop nuclear hypersonic weapons.

So to me, saying "why should I worry about balloons when they have nukes" is akin to saying "why should I be concerned about smoking cigarettes when I could die in a plane crash tomorrow." Unknowingly giving up intel is how you lose future wars.
 
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  • #84
boneh3ad said:
I haven't seen whatever he said. I suppose you could put a nuke on a balloon and it would be harder to detect but easier to shoot down than an ICBM.
What I said: We use low-power communications to coordinate our nuclear weapons system. We use low power specifically so satellites can't detect those communications. A balloon is at much lower altitude so it could detect those signals.

Those are likely the most classified communications to be found. And it followed a track that brought it close to several critical nuclear sites, like Malmstrom AFB.
 
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  • #85
fresh_42 said:
My fear is, that it is part of the preparation to deal with the Taiwan issue. It could have served multiple goals in this respect:
  • reaction time
  • severeness of reactions
  • spying facilities in the northwest
  • testing jet streams relevant for potential fallouts
  • and what else might be relevant for military personal
Hopefully the payload will be intact enough to determine the motive.
 
  • #86
berkeman said:
I think the gap was because we did not have any way to bring down the balloon from 60k' in a controlled way so it could be grounded right after it was detected. All we had was fighter jets with missiles, so had to wait until over water.
Okay, okay, we got this folks. I've been doing a little research, and we can put together a PF Team that can be available at a moment's notice if this happens again.

We can have several of these aircraft made available to us to get us to 51k', and our deer rifles can do the rest. I'm taking sign-ups at the following website; only apply if you have experience shooting your deer rifle while hanging out of a Leer jet at altitude. Wolverines! www.spacecowpokes.com

220px-G-PFCT_%2815040486403%29.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learjet_45
Service ceiling: 51,000 ft (15,545 m)
 
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  • #87
berkeman said:
Okay, okay, we got this folks. I've been doing a little research, and we can put together a PF Team that can be available at a moment's notice if this happens again.

We can have several of these aircraft made available to us to get us to 51k', and our deer rifles can do the rest. I'm taking sign-ups at the following website; only apply if you have experience shooting your deer rifle while hanging out of a Leer jet at altitude. Wolverines! www.spacecowpokes.com

View attachment 321929
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learjet_45
I think we need someone to jump wearing a jet pack, to get the last bit of altitude.
 
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  • #88
Ivan Seeking said:
I think we need someone to jump wearing a jet pack, to get the last bit of altitude.
We can send Brady. He is currently available and an expert in deflation.
 
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  • #89
Ivan Seeking said:
We use low-power communications to coordinate our nuclear weapons system. We use low power specifically so satellites can't detect those communications. A balloon is at much lower altitude so it could detect those signals.
I'd ask for a source, but if you had one you probably couldn't share it. But honestly, it would be stupid to use lower power over-the-air comms to communicate short distances over the terrestrial US. Coax or fiber would work just as well, and be immune to over-the-air sniffing recon.
 
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  • #90
berkeman said:
I'd ask for a source, but if you had one you probably couldn't share it. But honestly, it would be stupid to use lower power over-the-air comms to communicate short distances over the terrestrial US. Coax or fiber would work just as well, and be immune to over-the-air sniffing recon.
No, I heard it in an interview. If you need to make a fuss I'll try to find a source. I said I heard it from Leon Panetta. I didn't mean personally. :oldbiggrin:
 
  • #91
Ivan Seeking said:
No, I heard it in an interview. If you need to make a fuss I'll try to find a source. I said I heard it from Leon Panetta. I didn't mean personally. :oldbiggrin:
Sorry to make a fuss, but why in the world would you broadcast secure comms over short distances (low power) even using highly directional dish antennas when you could use secure fiber or coax? It just doesn't make sense to me.
 
  • #93
Ivan Seeking said:
What I said: We use low-power communications to coordinate our nuclear weapons system. We use low power specifically so satellites can't detect those communications. A balloon is at much lower altitude so it could detect those signals.

Those are likely the most classified communications to be found. And it followed a track that brought it close to several critical nuclear sites, like Malmstrom AFB.
I didn't contradict that. I contradicted an idea earlier in the thread that balloons aren't a concern because China has nukes, which are scarier. The key idea is the threshold for use of a nuke is almost impossibly high. Not so for a balloon.
 
  • #94
berkeman said:
Sorry to make a fuss, but why in the world would you broadcast secure comms over short distances (low power) even using highly directional dish antennas when you could use secure fiber or coax? It just doesn't make sense to me.
The distances between silos are usually quite large. Cables like that would probably be vulnerable to sabotage. There's no perfect solution.

Any over the air comms are likely encrypted but even the pattern of use could be potentially useful. It's so-called pattern-of-life analysis that establishes working habits and protocols for sensitive installations. That's why the military had to ban Fitbits and other trackers on bases in the Middle East because it was posting data about when people go for runs and change shifts inadvertently.
 
  • #95
boneh3ad said:
I didn't contradict that. I contradicted an idea earlier in the thread that balloons aren't a concern because China has nukes, which are scarier. The key idea is the threshold for use of a nuke is almost impossibly high. Not so for a balloon.
I'm lost. Use to do whaT??
 
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  • #96
hutchphd said:
I'm lost. Use to do whaT??
Just general use. The threshold for actually using a nuclear weapon is that the country basically needs to be facing an existential external threat thanks to mutually assured destruction.

The threshold for using a balloon for collecting intelligence is basically zero. The Chinese government just did it despite pending high level meetings with the US government.
 
  • #97
hutchphd said:
So we need an anti-balloon system? Can I get a piece of that development money?
Someone has already beat you to it. I found a picture of prototype hardware.

BoB
 
  • #98
hutchphd said:
I'm lost. Use to do whaT??
I found your comment in post #71 weird/confusing too. You seemed to be asking why we should be concerned about balloons when they have nukes. One thing has basically nothing to do with the other....and could be applied to any aggressive action they take. Why should we worry about fighter intercepts in international airspace when they have nukes? Why should we be worried about harassing Filipino fishing boats when they have nukes? They really are totally unrelated.
 
  • #99
berkeman said:
But honestly, it would be stupid to use lower power over-the-air comms to communicate short distances
And it would be stupid to try and listen at the receiving end. The transmitting end woule be better, and there are an infinite number of equally good or better positions.

Further, RF propagation (as you know) can be wacky. There are radio amateurs who have established communications with stations in all 50 states on "line of sight" bands. For the same money, you can do a lot better by 'wait and hope'.
 
  • #100
boneh3ad said:
Any over the air comms are likely encrypted but even the pattern of use could be potentially useful. It's so-called pattern-of-life analysis that establishes working habits and protocols for sensitive installations. That's why the military had to ban Fitbits and other trackers on bases in the Middle East because it was posting data about when people go for runs and change shifts inadvertently.

If that is one of the balloon's goals, there would probably be people on the ground who would easily hike or drive to places where the transmitter's sidelobes can be picked up. (I don't think that huge strips of land between and around the comms nodes could be made off limits to civilians). The PRC is able to apply quite a bit of coercion and/or other incentives onto former citizens, expats and diaspora in foreign countries.
 
  • #101
Vanadium 50 said:
15 football fields by 15 football fields?
We used to call this "a square mile".
I know it is a tangent to this thread, but... what nitwit decided that "we" wouldn't have a feel for "a mile" and thought "15 football fields" was more meaningful? Right after the "three buses" ? Just stupid.

And then amplifying the mistake by going to area... I'd be happier with 640 acres, if they just couldn't bring themselves to call it a square mile.
 
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  • #102
gmax137 said:
I know it is a tangent to this thread, but... what nitwit decided that "we" wouldn't have a feel for "a mile" and thought "15 football fields" was more meaningful? Right after the "three buses" ? Just stupid.

And then amplifying the mistake by going to area... I'd be happier with 640 acres, if they just couldn't bring themselves to call it a square mile.
Don't worry to much.
No one has of as yet come up with "It's in X number of Olympic sized swimming pools of water".
 
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  • #103
boneh3ad said:
Any over the air comms are likely encrypted but even the pattern of use could be potentially useful.
About 30 years ago I did some consulting with an aerospace sub-contractor that was developing a plane-to-plane and plane-to-ground comm system for the air force. The degree of simultaneous sophisticated encryption techniques (seemingly random frequency-shifting, etc) was amazing. I doubt that even knowing the kind of techniques used would be all that helpful, and this was 30 years ago. Undoubtedly better now.

EDIT: I should add, in case it's not obvious, that although the specific experience I talked about was for the Air Force, the techniques were and are available to all defense organizations.
 
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  • #104
phinds said:
About 30 years ago I did some consulting with an aerospace sub-contractor that was developing a plane-to-plane and plane-to-ground comm system for the air force. The degree of simultaneous sophisticated encryption techniques (seemingly random frequency-shifting, etc) was amazing. I doubt that even knowing the kind of techniques used would be all that helpful, and this was 30 years ago. Undoubtedly better now.

EDIT: I should add, in case it's not obvious, that although the specific experience I talked about was for the Air Force, the techniques were and are available to all defense organizations.
Meanwhile, the Russians continue to talk to each other over commercial, unencrypted radios in Ukraine.
 
  • #105
boneh3ad said:
Meanwhile, the Russians continue to talk to each other over commercial, unencrypted radios in Ukraine.
The ineptitude of the Russian military has been a source of considerable surprise to me, and likely to others. I never thought they would be able to stand against NATO forces if it ever came to that, but I did not suspect they were so thoroughly incompetent.
 
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