The US has confirmed that its F-22 fighter aircraft has ‘safely shot down’ a suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon.
The balloon was claimed to be used by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to surveil different strategic sites in the continental US.
It was first detected in the US airspace, near the Aleutian Islands, on 28 January and was continuously being monitored by US authorities.
Detailing the military engagement, the US informed that an F-22 Raptor aircraft, from the 1st Fighter Wing from Langley Air Force Base, fired an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile against the balloon, after which it fell nearly six miles off the coast in about 47ft of water.
According to a written statement from US Defense Secretary Lloyd J Austin III, the suspected intelligence-gathering balloon was brought down above the waters, off the South Carolina coast to ensure no civilians and infrastructure on the ground were harmed.
The activity also involved the participation of other aircraft, including F-15 Eagles and tanker aircraft from different states, including Oregon, Montana, and South and North Carolina.
A US Navy destroyer USS Oscar Austin, an amphibious ship USS Carter Hall and cruiser USS Philippine Sea also supported this mission.
Austin said: “In accordance with President’s direction, the Department of Defense developed options to take down the balloon safely over our territorial waters, while closely monitoring its path and intelligence-collection activities.
“This action was taken in coordination, and with the full support, of the Canadian Government.”
The mission will now focus on recovering the remains of the spy balloon for which various US Navy and Coast Guard vessels were deployed in the associated area. However, the US has not specified how long this debris search and recovery work would take.