CTV News:

The suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that was found floating over sensitive military sites in the western United States had been tracked by Canada’s government since last weekend as it passed through Canadians airspace, sources tell CTV News.

Canadian officials have not publicly stated whether the massive high-altitude balloon entered Canadian airspace. But sources told CTV News it had passed over the Canadian Arctic, Alberta and Saskatchewan before it was spotted over Montana on Thursday, as it flew over a nuclear launch site. Sources told CTV News it was tracked the entire time it was in Canadian airspace.

It’s a fucking balloon.

I haven’t written about this story at all, because I assumed it was something stupid and trivial. After all, why would China use a balloon when they already have spy satellites? That was my question, and the exact title of this BBC News article.


News of an alleged Chinese spy balloon floating over the US has left many wondering why Beijing would want to use a relatively unsophisticated tool for its surveillance of the US mainland.

China has said the balloon, spotted over the state of Montana, is merely a “civilian airship” which deviated from its planned route, but the US suspects it is a “high-altitude surveillance” device.

More recently, the US has reportedly been considering adding high-altitude inflatables into the Pentagon’s surveillance network. Modern balloons typically hover between 24km-37km above the earth’s surface (80,000ft-120,000ft).

But China expert Benjamin Ho said Beijing had more sophisticated surveillance technology at its disposal.

“They have other means to spy out American infrastructure, or whatever information they wanted to obtain. The balloon was to send a signal to the Americans, and also to see how the Americans would react,” explained Dr Ho – coordinator of the China programme at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

It may even be the case that China wanted the US to detect the balloon.

There are only two possibilities. First, the balloon is actually owned by ZOG and this is a complete gay op. I actually find that unlikely. More likely is our incompetent military stopped shitting all over themselves failing to launch hypersonic missiles and has moved to shitting all over themselves failing to shoot down a fucking balloon. 

Look, I know it’s high altitude, but the US military is supposed to have anti-satellite missiles successfully tested decades ago, and it’s not that high altitude. How are you expecting to shoot down satellites at 500 km altitude when you can’t even hit a tiny little balloon.

And yes, I know, there’s been coping about how they intentionally didn’t shoot it down. I’m sure. It was in a depopulated area of Montana. It doesn’t get much more depopulated than that. I think they just pretended to not want to shoot it down, so that they could avoid the PR disaster of firing missiles at a fucking balloon and repeatedly missing.

Anyway, back to CTV.

After being flagged by Norad, the joint U.S.-Canadian agency responsible for air defence in both nations, U.S. fighter jets investigated the balloon and determined it wasn’t fitted with any weapons, but was equipped with high-resolutions cameras.

Fighter jets? At 120,000 feet altitude?

You can scroll up to see the maximum altitude of fighter planes above. Even that’s misleading, since they need to fly very fast in order to fly at their highest altitudes, since you produce more lift proportional to the square of the increased speed. Whatever altitude they got to, it’s not like they were right there, so they would have been better off just using giant cameras from the ground. Hell, they could even slowly float their own balloon up there and take a pic.

I don’t think I’m doing a good job of explaining how utterly idiotic this was. The fighter planes cannot get up there. It’s not like the pilots boarded the balloon, they just got to half the altitude and then squinted at it. Maybe they pulled out their smart phones and snapped a pic. Maybe they even brought their DSLR’s aboard so the guy in the back could sharpen up his photography.

An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 333rd Fighter Wing, Seymur Johmson Air Force Base, N.C., on Aug. 25, 2000. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Meneguin)

The point is that there is no reason to use fighter planes to take images of high altitude balloons. You can get better pictures with real cameras from the ground, even before factoring in turbulence. The only “reason” is that it sounds really cool and military-esque, which is why they did it.

The spah barroon continues to be a nuclear warhead to the dying shreds of legitimacy of our military.

NOTE: Golimar on BANG has a comment that makes a lot of sense.

A normally-configured F-15 or F-16 air defense alert aircraft will have a hard time getting to 50K’. If the balloon doesn’t put out a significant infrared or radar signature, it will be difficult to shoot down even with AIM-9 or AIM-120 air-to-air missiles. That said, forget about a 20mm gun attack.

The Soviets had the same problem attacking our U-2 spy planes flying at 70K’ feet in the 1950’s, pre-Gary Powers shootdown. By the time a MiG- or Su-whatever got close enough for a missile or cannon shot, they’d be out of fuel and in such thin air that maneuverability was seriously degraded. A surface-to-air missile system like Patriot could probably get the job done, but guess what? We don’t have Patriot batteries on stateside alert nor have we ever.

Our best bet is to take a specially configured F-15, F-16, or F-22 with a partial fuel load and partial missile load to do a zoom climb to 50K’ with a really good pilot, deliberate ground control guidance, and some luck to get a successful shot off.

“We don’t want to cause civilian casualties over our least populated area of our country” is code for “we don’t have an immediate means of shooting this thing down, so it’s actually less humiliating to let it ride out than to make a failed attempt at doing so.”

I should note that I’m not sure we can simply assume that a balloon won’t have a significant radar return, strong enough for an AIM-120 to lock onto. However, if the missile needs to fly around 50,000 feet to hit the missile, that’s over 15 kilometers vertically where it’s fighting against gravity the entire time. The AIM-120 has a burn time of around 10 seconds, and can only move at slightly higher than 1 km/s at the best of times. I’m not saying it’s possible or impossible, but if they don’t have SAM’s with guaranteed enough range it would have the potential to end in huge PR disaster if they used an F-22 to shoot it down and failed.

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1 Comment

  1. My initial knee-jerk reaction to the incident was much like Golimar – “ha, they’re not shooting it down because they fucking can’t.”
    The only difference was I wasn’t being serious.
    Then I had to remind myself that the US stopped having a serious military a long, long time ago.

    I just checked, and Cuba is listed as an operator of the S-75 Dvina – the SAM system that was used to shoot down Francis Gary Powers back in 1960. It’d be one hell of a flex for the Cubans to do what the Americans can’t.

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