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U.S. General Warns of Potential Chinese Spy Balloon Activity in the U.S.

China’s dispatch of a suspected surveillance balloon over the United States earlier this year is likely to be repeated, according to Air Force Lt. Gen. Gregory M. Guillot, the nominee to lead the Pentagon’s Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Gen. Guillot made this assessment during a congressional hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee. He stated that China would likely make similar attempts in the future to gather sensitive information and gain a competitive advantage. The general emphasized that mitigating the surveillance balloon threat requires shared intelligence, improved domain awareness, and streamlined information-sharing.

Gen. Guillot’s comments are in contrast to the remarks made by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who referred to the disruption caused by the balloon’s transit as a closed chapter in U.S.-China relations during his recent visit to Beijing.

The Chinese surveillance balloon that flew over the U.S. was shot down by an F-22 jet after transiting sensitive military sites, including a missile defense base in Alaska and nuclear missile fields and bomber bases in the north-central U.S. This incident exposed significant shortcomings in the military’s ability to monitor airborne threats, as acknowledged by the current Northern Command chief, Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck.

In addition to the downing of the Chinese balloon, the U.S. military also shot down three other aerial vehicles that were later determined to be non-threatening privately owned aerial vessels.

Efforts to counter future Chinese spy balloons will involve early detection, rapid decision-making, and prompt communication of response options to senior civilian and military leaders. The Chinese surveillance balloon system, operated by the Strategic Support Force, is viewed as a cost-effective alternative to spy satellites.

President Biden faced criticism for allowing the balloon to transit the United States, although he had initially wanted to take it down. Nonetheless, he heeded the advice of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to avoid potential civilian casualties on the ground. The balloon’s intrusion was only acknowledged by the Pentagon after a news photographer in Montana snapped a picture of it. This disclosure delayed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to China and led to a wave of criticism towards China in Congress.

During the congressional hearing, Senator Roger Wicker, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, highlighted that the Biden administration has not adequately addressed all the questions related to the incident.

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