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Another Form Of Belligerence

In the first week of February 2023, the Pentagon claimed that China was using a balloon to monitor sensitive military bases of the US. Although Beijing rejected the claim, the US military had the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, which had been transiting across the US for several days, shoot down on February 4. Later, the US military launched an operation in the Atlantic Ocean to recover the wreckage of the same.

Military experts are of the opinion that monitoring an enemy country through balloons is a century-old practice. Only the technological aspects have changed in the 21st Century. This strategy was first used during the American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 26, 1865). General Fitz John Porter (August 31, 1822 – May 21, 1901), a Union General during the Civil War, had ridden a balloon to monitor the enemy camp in April 1862. When the enemies made an attempt to shoot down the balloon, the General somehow managed to escape from the place with his balloon.

Balloons, filled with hydrogen, played a major role in the First World War. The US, probably, used such balloons the most; and the enemies used to target those. Japan had sent about 9,000 balloons, carrying bombs, to the US during the Second World War (mainly in 1944-45), and those balloons travelled nearly 6,000 miles (9,656km) across the Pacific Ocean. Later, the US Air Force claimed that they found 285 Japanese balloons in Michigan, Texas and Wyoming. A balloon, filled with explosives, killed a person in Oregon in May 1945. The US, too, used such balloons to attack enemies in Europe during the Second World War.

Surveillance balloons have been developed in a more modern way in the 21st Century. Now, balloons are filled with helium. They also have solar panels, which power those balloons, surveillance cameras, radars, sensors and communication devices. These surveillance balloons are like small aircraft, although they can fly higher than aeroplanes. Surveillance balloons usually fly at a height of 80,000ft. However, they can fly at a maximum height of 120,000ft. Meanwhile, fighter jets fly at 65,000ft, and commercial aircraft maintain a maximum height of 40,000ft.

Balloons, filled with helium, were first used for surveillance by the US in 2004 during the Civil War in Iraq. The US used these balloons to monitor its border regions in the southern part of the country, too, and even in Afghanistan during the War against Terror. Many Afghan citizens strongly criticised the US’ move, saying that it was an attack on their privacy. This time, a Chinese surveillance balloon has been seen in the American sky, with the Pentagon claiming that the Asian Giant is monitoring the military activities of the US.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post recently reported that the Chinese surveillance balloons not only targeted the US, but also Colombia, India and several other countries. Soon after the US daily published the report on February 7, 2023, the Joe Biden Administration warned the friendly nations about China’s real intention. As per the report, Beijing has been monitoring defence and other activities of India, Japan, Vietnam and Taiwan for several years. The Washington Post revealed that it published the report after receiving information in this regard from some top Chinese Army officers. However, the daily did not disclose the names of those officers.

Citing the report, a senior US Defence Department official has claimed that the surveillance balloons belong to the Chinese Military. The official, who wished to remain anonymous, has alleged that China has violated the sovereignty of other countries by sending surveillance balloons to their territories. The US has shared the report of what was found inside the Chinese surveillance balloon, which recently entered the US airspace and was brought down by a missile, with more than 40 countries, including India.

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