The news about it appears that Pentagon monitors a possible Chinese surveillance balloon flying in the sky above the Continental United States raises a series of concerns – not the least of all the specifics of what it could be doing.
US officials have confirmed that the path taken by the balloon, which was first seen in Montana this week, could be able to fly over the “number of sensitive locations” and that they are making measures in order to “protect from foreign spy gathering.”
However, what’s not clear is what the motive behind why Chinese spy operatives would employ a balloon instead of a satellite, to collect information.
This isn’t the first time that a Chinese balloon is seen over the US however, this one appears to be different from prior balloons the US defense official told.
“It seems to hang on for a greater amount of timethis time and it is also more consistent than in the past. This is a distinct feature,” the official said.
Don’t spies use satellites now?
The use of balloons as surveillance platforms dates back to the beginning in the Cold War. Since then, the US has employed hundreds of them in order to track its enemies, according to Peter Layton, a fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute in Australia and a former Royal Australian Air Force officer.
However, with the development of satellite technology that allows the collection of intelligence overflight information from space, the deployment of the surveillance balloon has been fading out of style.
or at the very least for a while.
Recent advancements in the deconstructing of electronics make it possible that floating intelligence platforms could be returning to the current spying toolkit.
“Balloon payloads now weigh less, which means that balloons are smaller, less expensive and simpler to launch” as opposed to satellites, Layton stated.
Blake Herzinger, an expert in Indo-Pacific defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, said despite their slow speed, balloons can be difficult to detect.
“They’re very low in signature and emit very little, which makes them difficult to detect in traditional situational awareness and surveillance technologies,” Herzinger said.
They can also do things that satellites aren’t able to.
“Space-based systems are equally excellent, however they are more stable in their orbital dynamics” Layton said.
“An benefit to balloons is the fact that they are able to be controlled by computers on board to make the most of wind speeds and climb and descend to a certain extent. This means that they can linger for a short period.
“A satellite cannot be a lone satchel and therefore, a lot of satellites are required to cross an area of interest in order to ensure surveillance,” he said.
What is it that it might be doing?
According to Layton the suspected Chinese balloon is probably gathering information about US communications systems and radars.
“Some such systems utilize extremely high frequencies which are low-frequency, which are absorbed by the atmosphere, and because they are line-of-sight, are extremely directed. There is a possibility that a balloon could be a better option to collect this kind of data rather than a satellite” the scientist said.
The retired US Air Force Col. Cedric Leighton who is an analyst at CNN analysts in the military, shared the same sentiments.
“They could be taking signals intelligence, or in other terms, they’re looking at the cell phone activity, and our radio traffic” Leighton told Erin Burnett.
The intelligence data gathered by the ballon could then be transmitted in real-time via the satellite link back in China, Layton said.
Analysts have also pointed out that Montana and other states in the vicinity are where you can find US international ballistic missile sites as well as Strategic bomber base.
US officials have taken measures to ensure that the balloon does not gather any sensitive information. They have decided not to bring it down due to the potential danger to people and property due to falling debris.
If the US could knock the balloon down within its own territory, without completely destroying the balloon, it could divulge some secrets, Layton added.
There could be secrets or spying activities involved. It could just be an accident that caused the balloon to be flying off course and the Chinese operator losing their control of it.
“There’s at least a chance that it was a mishap which led to the balloon ending up in a place Beijing didn’t anticipate,” Herzinger said.
On its own, China says it’s looking at the issues.
“We know of reports about this balloon] and are working to comprehend the circumstances and determine the exact details of the situation” an Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Friday. “I’d want to make it clear that, until we know the circumstances, any intentional speculation or hype could hinder the investigation of the situation.”