An Identified Flying Object
China trolls America with 1947 spy tech
Relax, everyone. The government has everything under control.
That is not a flying saucer you see in the sky, it is a weather balloon. Really.
It is after all just a weather balloon, and really, but with solar panels and spying instruments suspended in place of a weather station.
An F-22 Raptor shot down this threat to national security yesterday over open water, where it was unlikely to land on any American.
There is no cause for alarm. The government says so, and you can trust the government. Right? Especially about strange things from China.
Balloons have been used for overhead observation in war since 1794. Weather balloons were invented in the late 19th century and they were used for international spying by the early Cold War.
Indeed, a rash of “flying saucer” sightings hit America just as the Second World War ended in a sudden expansion of weather science ballooning thanks to the invention of radiosonde electronics for data transmission. “They said it was a weather balloon” became a joke among UFO enthusiasts because so many alleged sightings were, in fact, weather balloons.
Some people are upset that the government knew about the ballooon, but didn’t tell them.
China has apparently done this three times before, but we are only finding out the fourth time around. And like the UFO hysteria of 1947, we only heard about the balloon because rural western Americans have spare time to watch the sky.
All of which should suggest to the reader that maybe the government…wasn’t lying, and many of the unidentified flying objects reported in America from 1947 to the present were weather balloons, some of them presumably spy balloons.
Hundreds of them are launched every day around the world to gather data. They are so inexpensive that the gas in them is more precious than the balloon.
As a means to spy on some particular location, however, balloons are quite inexact. It is possible to “aim” a balloon for North America, but not any particular place on the continent.
Ask the Japanese.
During a seven-month campaign late in the war, the Imperial Japanese Army lanched over nine thousand balloon bombs at the Pacific Northwest hoping to start forest fires, and in some way return the favor for Curtis LeMay’s incineration of Japan with B-29s.
As reports of explosions reached Washington, an “Office of Censorship” (really!) quietly prevailed on American newspapers and broadcasters to quash the story so that Japanese balloon bombers could not improve their aim. Not that there was much the Japanese could do to improve precision.
By the end of the campaign, Fu-Go balloon bombs had been recovered in 25 American states and Canadian provinces, parts of Mexico, as well as many out at sea. Japan had inflicted little damage to the United States or its war effort, killing only one hapless church group that was out fishing.
Although the Chinese spy balloons seem to have some maneuvering ability, propulsion will be limited to steering with the wind, never against it. As a result, they are not going to be precision systems.
China still insists that it was just a weather balloon, honest guys, which is adorable.
Reading this official statement from the US Department of Defense, we should assume the cost of the balloon shoot-down was eye-watering.
F-15 Eagles flying from Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, supported the F-22, as did tankers from multiple states including Oregon, Montana, South Carolina and North Carolina. Canadian forces also helped track the overflight of the balloon.
The Navy has deployed the destroyer USS Oscar Austin, the cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the USS Carter Hall, an amphibious landing ship in support of the effort.
An F-22 costs about $85,000 an hour to operate, two F-15s around $60,000, and those five tankers roughly $100,000. A four-hour mission by those aircraft costs the American taxpayer a cool one million bucks.
Now add the costs of US Navy assets and you start to see the value exchange. China might have spent $10,000 for a very advanced spy balloon that has cost Americans one thousand times as much to shoot down. Now extend that cold calculation to the entire UFO phenomenon.
What the Xi regime has learned is that they can freak out the American giant, perhaps even discredit American democracy, by using cheap, gas-filled balloons to make the land of the free and the home of the brave seem reactive and fragile.
To be clear, I am not calling this a hoax. That would imply too much Chinese forethought. I am calling it a weapon of mass distraction.
China released the balloon into the slipstream ahead of a visit by the top US diplomat, Antony Blinken, who cancelled the trip in response. To many, it suggests a high-level, eleven-dimensional chess game unfolding between China and the US, perhaps even preparatory to war.
In practice, however, a balloon is a transitory form of surveillance — it will eventually be blown away from the target area. Far more likely, then, that China was attempting to observe transitory events, probably by the United States military.
There are only two reasons to prefer a high-altitude balloon for a spy mission to a spy satellite, which China already has. In fact, the balloon was almost certainly transmitting its telemetry back to China via satelline.
One possible incentive is image resolution. Perhaps China wants better overhead photos of missile silos, for example, though why they should want centimeter resolution for reinforced concrete structures remains a mystery.
The second, more likely target would be FM radio communication. Most US tactical comms are in the 20-80 MHz region of the spectrum because these frequencies reflect from the ionosphere and return to earth, extending the range of the signal past trees and hills and buildings that block line-of-sight.
China may have wanted to eavesdrop on sub-UHF military comms, perhaps some sort of missile exercise. As always, the government clearly knows more than they are telling us.
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