US Air Force releases new image of suspected Chinese spy balloon | Military News

The photograph was taken from the cockpit of a U-2 spy plane as it flew above the alleged surveillance balloon on Feb 3.

The United States Department of Defence has released a new photo on Wednesday depicting a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon as it travelled across North America earlier this month, igniting a political firestorm.

The photo was taken on February 3 from the cockpit of a U-2 single-engine spy plane deployed by the US Air Force.

According to the Department of Defence, the image was taken as the balloon “hovered over the Central Continental United States” a day before it was shot down off the South Carolina coast.

The aerial object and its destruction heightened ongoing tensions between the US and China, which insisted that the aircraft was nothing more than a civilian weather balloon blown off course.

The decision to delay firing on the balloon also drew criticism from Republicans, who denounced the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden for its slow response.

Defence officials had previously said the balloon could not be shot down over US soil without risk to civilians on the ground. The giant white aircraft had been flying 18,300 metres (60,000 ft) above the ground and was estimated to be 60m (200 ft) tall.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Defense Department deputy spokesperson Sabrina Singh confirmed that the agency had completed its search operation for the remains of the balloon last week.

“The majority of the balloon, including the payload, was recovered,” Singh said.

Navy ships and submersibles had swept the Atlantic Ocean to recover fragments of the aircraft, which were then turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for analysis. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has vowed to share information gathered from the balloon with Congress and international allies.

US officials had previously confirmed that the aircraft was “clearly for intelligence surveillance and inconsistent with the equipment onboard weather balloons”.

The US had deployed a F-22 fighter jet to bring down the balloon, using an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile. In the days afterward, the US also shot down three other unidentified aircraft, out of what Biden called “an abundance of caution”.

One was downed over Alaska, another over Canada and a third over Lake Huron. They were all reported to be smaller than the initial balloon.

Biden later explained that the aircraft were likely tied to research and private entities. “Nothing right now suggests they were related to China’s spy balloon program or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country,” Biden said on February 16.

He also explained that more slow-moving flying objects were being detected as a result of enhanced radar surveillance in the wake of the alleged spy balloon.

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