HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — An intelligence expert who is now a professor at Coastal Carolina University said the suspected Chinese spy balloon likely featured new technology that allowed it to be controlled on its path over important military sites.
“They maneuvered it over our missile silo bases that we have out in Montana and Wyoming,” said Mark Chandler, who has nearly four decades of experience in defense intelligence. “Then they were able to steer that down to one of our strategic bomber bases in Missouri. That’s a little disconcerting when you start to look at the Chinese development and growth in their nuclear capabilities and our, if you will, international — as our national security strategy says — China is a pacing threat.”
Chandler said teams are working to gather every piece of the balloon so it can be reverse engineered. Chandler said retracing the technology could take months.
He said he doesn’t buy China’s claims that the balloon was merely doing weather research.
Chandler is familiar with these types of balloons, which he said likely contained technology that allowed China to control it across the continental United States.
Saturday’s shoot-down of the balloon marked the first use of F-22 fighter jets against another country over the continental U.S., according to Chandler. He said the ongoing salvage operation is just as important as shooting it down.
“It would be really interesting to take this, reverse engineer it and see what technology they may have taken from us to apply to this, but also understand the Chinese collection sophistication,” Chandler said. “How sophisticated is it? As I said before, was it just imagery? Was it trying to collect signals? Was it a multi-source capability? That will take months.”
Gen. Glen VanHerck with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said on Monday that a “majority” of the debris has been collected.
VanHerck said the debris field from the balloon is about 1,500 meters by 1,500 meters. He said when it was learned that the debris field could be up to 6 or 7 miles, the decision was made to not shoot the balloon down until it was 6 miles off the coast “so that no debris would go back over the coast.”
The USS Carter Hall has been collecting debris since it arrived, though sea states on Sunday limited what crews could do because of safety concerns, VanHerck said.
Concerns about glass from the solar panels and any hazardous materials from anything battery-operated along with the potential for explosives led to the decision not to shoot the balloon down over land, VanHerck said.
VanHerck said he can’t confirm that there were any explosives on the balloon, but any time there’s an operation of this nature, officials assume there are explosives as a safety precaution for all involved.
On Monday afternoon, crews were in the process of using sonar to create a debris map.
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Manny Martinez is the weekend evening anchor and a reporter at News13. Manny is from Chicago. He graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in broadcast journalism. Follow Manny on Twitter and read more of his work here.
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Kevin Accettulla is the digital executive producer at News13. Kevin is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He joined the News13 team in March 2020 after nearly two years at a sister station in Pennsylvania. Follow Kevin on Twitter and read more of his work here.