How dangerous is the response of a close-in jet on China? The case of the 135 RC-135 Rivet Joint plane
Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in China newsletter, a three-times-a-week update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it impacts the world. Sign up here.
“Let me point out that for a long time, the US has frequently deployed aircraft and vessels for close-in reconnaissance on China, which poses a serious danger to China’s national security,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.
The RC-135 Rivet Joint plane was forced to take evasive maneuvers after the Chinese navy J-11 fighter jet flew within 20 feet of the plane.
CNN spoke to aviation and military experts that saw the two videos and they said the Chinese jet appeared to have no reason to get as close to the American plane as it did.
The 135 is not a military aircraft. Why does the PLAN consider it necessary to intercept carrying missiles when the intent was to visually identify the aircraft? Doing this is potentially dangerous and could lead to a major and tragic incident,” Layton said.
There was no gain to be had by the fighter flying so close, except to create an incident, since his crew had a high quality video camera to use. The incident seems very well planned by the PLAN, if rather risky,” he said.
The Chinese response is so distant from reality it is a fiction. An airliner-sized plane doesn’t aggressively turn into a fighter.
The US military risked blowing the incident out of proportion if they said the US jet had to take emergency maneuvers, which was described as “overly dramatic,” according to Hopkins.
“These are no different than a driver adjusting her position to avoid a temporary lane incursion by an adjacent driver,” Hopkins said. The US response is pure theater and it creates an exaggerated sense of danger.
“Flying aircraft close to each other at 500 miles per hour with unfriendly intentions is generally unsafe,” said Blake Herzinger, a nonresident fellow and Indo-Pacific defense policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute.
Analysis of the 2002 South China Sea Airborne Collision by a Chinese Jet: The Case for the First Anomalous U.S. Interaction
The PLA has effectively wrecked any kind of hotline or discussion forums for addressing potential incidents with the United States. If an intercept does go wrong, there are fewer options than ever for senior officers to limit potential escalation,” he said.
The Chinese ForeignMinistry said in a regular press conference on Friday that the incident was the latest of many US provocations that threaten stability in the region.
The Chinese Southern Theater Command said a US jet was flying near the coastline of China, and that Beijing has built up military facilities on the Paracels.
The US does not recognize the territorial claims of the South China Sea and routinely conducts operations there.
In the most infamous incident in 2001, a Chinese fighter jet collided with a US reconnaissance plane near Hainan Island in the northern South China Sea, leading to a major crisis as the Chinese pilot was killed and the damaged US plane barely managed a safe landing on Chinese territory. The crew from the US is no longer with us.
“At the end of the day responses and (tactics, techniques, and procedures) from the US and other countries on how they react, or fail to – all of that has value to China and the PLA.”
Editor’s Note: Beth Sanner is a former deputy director of National Intelligence for Mission Integration, a position where she oversaw the elements that coordinate and lead collection, analysis, and program oversight throughout the Intelligence Community. She was also the president’s intelligence briefer. She is a professor at the University of Maryland as well as a CNN national security analyst. The opinions she expresses are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
The Impact of China on the American Civilian Aircraft Collision on Trump and the First Appropriate Action of the Chinese Communist Party
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Tan Kefei said on Sunday that the US had “used force to attack our civilian unmanned airship, which is an obvious overreaction.”
Trump’s campaign vowed to impose travel and visa sanctions to “shut off Chinese access” to US secrets and pledged new restrictions on Chinese ownership of US energy, technology, infrastructure, farmland, medical supplies and other assets. It was not known how Trump’s plans would be different than those currently being worked on. All of the tough new talk from Biden and Trump did not acknowledge the deep and intricate links between the US and Chinese economies that could lead to a full separation of the two countries. A direct military confrontation or full-scale war would be even more ruinous to the global economy.
Then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin laid blame for the collision on the US. Nearly two months elapsed before the two sides reached agreement for the return of the aircraft. The Chinese want the plane to be dismantled and transported by the US at their expense after they refused to return the equipment. Beijing also tried to charge the Bush Administration $1 million for costs associated with the incident, including expenses for detaining the plane’s crew. Washington offered a “fair figure,” money China refused, and never apologized.
The Biden officials told Congress that it’s still unclear what the motivation was for the flight of the balloon across the US, which prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone his trip to China. The US believes that the Chinese are still trying to figure out how this happened because senior leadership of the People’s Liberation Army and Chinese Communist Party were also unaware.
Biden built on Trump’s hostile attitude against Beijing, as well as drawing up a wide spectrum of laws and policies to challenge China’s influence. In another sign of unified opposition to China, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has convened a new bipartisan House committee dedicated to examining the perceived threat from the Chinese Communist Party.
Peter Bergen is a professor at Arizona State University, a vice president at New America and a national security analyst for CNN. Bergen is the author of “The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. You can also give your opinion on CNN.
And it reminded me that when my father, Tom Bergen, was a lieutenant in the US Air Force in the mid-1950s, he worked on a program to help send balloons into Soviet airspace.
In 1954, he was assigned to the headquarters air material command. There he worked on the “Grand Union” project, which deployed balloons that carried cameras over the then-Soviet Union. Those spy balloons were launched from Turkey.
My dad didn’t talk a lot about this part of his career since it was a secret, but the program became public when it happened seven decades ago.
What Did the US Fly When the First Balloon Collided with Alaskan Airlines on January 28 2006? A State Department Hearing on the China Observation of the F-35 Anomaly
During the hearing, the assistant secretary of defense said that the balloon first crossed into US airspace over Alaska on January 28. When the balloon was spotted, it was not determined to have “hostile intent,” Sims said, and officials did not believe it would impact aviation routes or present a significant intelligence gathering ability. While the balloon was flying over Alaska, officials determined it wasn’t over critical infrastructure.
Spy satellites are new gizmos that can take photos, and the US and its rivals have them. They can do full-motion video! They can take thermal imagery that detects individuals moving around at night! When the skies are clear, they can spy on pretty much anything, with a resolution of centimeters.
Indeed, commercial satellite imagery is now getting so inexpensive that you can go out and buy your own close-up images of, say, a Russian battle group in Ukraine. Maxar Technologies was acquired by a private equity firm two months ago, and has built up a rather profitable business on this model.
It is possible that it may help explain an element of a report published last month by the US Office of Director of National Intelligence.
The work of the Pentagon’s All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office has raised questions about whether some of the balloons they identified were from China. And could some of the 171 “unexplained sightings” of UFOs that they also assessed be Chinese balloons?
But China has arguably done much worse. The US believes it was helped by the work of hackers who stole design data about the F-35 fighter aircraft as China builds its own new generation of fighters, as well as by sucking up the personal information of millions of Americans who were part of the US government. China called the F-35 theft report “baseless” and denied responsibility for the OPM hacking.
A State Department official said that the Biden Administration was reaching out to countries directly to answer any questions they might have about the program.
Roughly half a dozen of those flights have been within US airspace – although not necessarily over US territory, according to one official familiar with the intelligence.
And not all of the balloons sighted around the globe have been exactly the same model as the one shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, that official and another source familiar with the intelligence said. The people said that there are multiple variations.
Washington Post reported that the link to the broader program was uncovered before the balloon was spotted last week.
At a government lab in Virginia, an elite team of FBI engineers is studying the remnants of a balloon to figure out how to find it again, as well as learn more about the intelligence gathered.
Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff was not aware of the balloon until it crossed into Alaskan airspace on January 28.
In a statement on Friday, China expressed their regret over the downed vessel, but they maintained it was a weather balloon thrown off course.
So far, China has offered slim information to fill out its own version of events – maintaining the balloon was a Chinese civilian research airship blown off course and flatly denying a broader surveillance program.
The China-US War Between Democracy and Tyranny: A Brief History of a New Age of Great Power Politics, First Speech at the U.S. Capitol
The elite team consists of agents, analysts, engineers, and scientists who are responsible for analyzing those of the US’s adversaries.
OTD personnel, for example, construct surveillance devices used by FBI and intelligence community personnel targeting national security threats — but they also are responsible for managing court-authorized data collection and work to defeat efforts by foreign intelligence agencies to penetrate the US.
But, according to one member of the House Intelligence Committee, “there’s number of reasons why we wouldn’t do that. You want to see where it is and what it’s doing, we want to collect it.
A defense official said the US has procedures – akin to a kind of digital blackout – to protect sensitive locations from overhead surveillance, typically used for satellite overflight.
Biden called out Beijing on Tuesday before millions of viewers in the US and around the world as diplomatic tensions with China soar and new details emerge of an expansive Chinese balloon surveillance program.
Biden referred to the Chinese president as he slammed autocracies and argued for the superiority of democracies.
Name the world leader that would change places with him. I’d like to name myself one. Biden has known his Chinese counterpart for a long time and last met him in Indonesia. The president almost shouted at the end of the sentence, which could be seen as disdainful of China at a time when he has been damaged by mismanagement of Covid-19.
The president delivered his speech as the US was at war with both China and Russia. Those two nuclear superpowers have tightened their relationship in a new age of great power politics that Biden sees as a fight between democracy and tyranny. Biden framed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “a test for the ages, a test for America, a test of the world” and an example of how America was working for more “freedom, more dignity, and more peace.”
Biden has claimed many times that he would protect Taiwan in the event of an attack from the Chinese, even though the US has long been vague about its stance.
His remarks on Russia immediately proceeded those on China, making it impossible to miss the symbolic synergy between his policy toward both nations as he laid out what might be seen as a Biden doctrine of standing with democracies against autocracies and increasing attempts by nations like Russia and China to apply their power outside their borders.
The Chinese spy balloon that was found in the continental US did not damage the bilateral relationship between the two countries, says President Joe Biden in a new interview.
It makes relations worse if you shoot down a balloon that is gathering information over America. The PBS NewsHour caught up with Biden after the second State of the Union address, and he gave a wide-ranging interview.
Biden administration officials have stressed that the meeting was not canceled, but instead delayed until a later date. The date has yet to be set.
Asked by CNN this week if US officials had any indication as to why China would commit such an overt act, Biden laughed off the question. He said that they were the Chinese government.
Biden administration officials have maintained that they were able to move quickly to mitigate any intelligence collection capacity of the balloon because they knew they’d be able to collect information from the balloon and the Chinese intelligence capabilities in the recovery of its debris from the Atlantic Ocean.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise’s office said the chamber will vote Thursday on a resolution “condemning the Chinese Communist Party’s use of a high-altitude surveillance balloon over United States territory as a brazen violation of United States sovereignty.”
While the president stood by his handling of the balloon, he faced criticism from Republicans because he allowed the balloon to fly over most of the country before shooting it down.
Mao Ning, the US Navy, and the recovery operation of a suspected Chinese spy balloon after the shooting down of an F-22 fighter jet
And he detailed a telling observation he shared with Xi last year as US officials warned China not to provide military support to Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.
The photos of the recovery effort of a suspected Chinese spy balloon were released Tuesday by the US Navy.
The commander of US Northern Command and NORAD told reporters on Monday that the balloon was more than a couple of thousand pounds and was 200 feet tall.
“[F]rom a safety standpoint, picture yourself with large debris weighing hundreds if not thousands of pounds falling out of the sky. That’s really what we’re kind of talking about,” VanHerck said on Monday. “So glass off of solar panels, potentially hazardous material, such as material that is required for a batteries to operate in such an environment as this and even the potential for explosives to detonate and destroy the balloon that could have been present.”
“[T]his gave us the opportunity to assess what they were actually doing, what kind of capabilities existed on the balloon, what kind of transmission capabilities existed, and I think you’ll see in the future that that time frame was well worth its value to collect over,” VanHerck said.
The balloon was ultimately shot down on Saturday afternoon by a single missile from a F-22 fighter jet out of Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. Navy photo caption states that the operation was done by activeduty, Reserve, National Guard and civilian personnel.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Chinese side informed the US side that the ship was for civilian use and that it was an accident.
The situation resulted in a postponed visit for Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Beijing, which had been expected to happen within days of the balloon’s sighting.
She declined to comment on the equipment on board the balloon and the entities that own the balloon. Chinese statements have implied that the balloon was not operated by a government entity, but instead was linked to one or more companies. It has not named them.
Mao Ning said that China is a responsible country. We have always followed international law. We informed all relevant parties and the situation was handled properly, which did not pose a threat to any countries.
Aircraft Development and Battlefields for the People’s Liberation Army: The Case of a 130-meter Long Snoozing Airship in China
Air and space integration is a priority for the Chinese leader, who has urged thePLA Air Force to strengthen their capabilities as early as in 2014) and military experts have designated near space as a crucial link in the integration.
A range of near-space flight vehicles will play a vital role in future joint combat operations that integrate outer space and the Earth’s atmosphere, according to an article.
In the video, Cheng Wanmin, an expert at the National University of Defense Technology, highlighted the progress by the US, Russia and Israel in developing these vehicles, adding China has also made its own “breakthroughs.”
With the development of modern technology, the space for information confrontation is not limited to land, sea, or low altitude. Near space has also become a new battlefield in modern warfare and an important part of the national security system,” read a 2018 article in the PLA Daily, the official newspaper of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
A scientist on the team told the newspaper that stratospheric airships are preferable to satellites in that they have a range of purposes, including disaster warning and environmental research.
An expert from the military explains how near-space light-than-air vehicles can surveil and take high resolution photos and videos at a much lower cost than satellites.
China has reportedly made great strides in this field with the reported flight of a 100 meter long snoozing dirigible called the Cloud Chaser. In a 2019 interview with the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper, Wu Zhe, a professor at Beihang University, said the vehicle had transited across Asia, Africa and North America in an around-the-world flight at 20,000 meters (65, 616 feet) above the Earth.
The US has also been bolstering its capacity to use lighter-than-air vehicles. According to a statement from the firm, Raven Aerostar, in 2021, the US Department of Defense hired an American company to use their stratospheric balloons as a means of developing and applying effects to the battlefield.
The documentary did not provide further detail about the time and location of the incident, but a paper published last April by researchers in a PLA institute noted air-drift balloons were spotted over China in 1997 and 2017.
The Second Airborne Object Falling into a U.S. Airborne Balloon and Collision with an Interaction With Japan and Taiwan
“Understanding the atmospheric conditions up there is critical to programming the guidance software” for ballistic and hypersonic missiles, according to Hawaii-based analyst Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.
Both the self-governing island of Taiwan and Japan have acknowledged past, similar sightings, though it is not clear if they are related to the US incident.
The data collected from the balloon may have been sent back to China, which is now receiving information from the incident.
The object brought down in Alaska was much smaller than the balloon that fell in the water on Saturday. The object that was taken down on Friday has been described by US officials as a small car, compared to the Chinese balloon that was downed last Saturday which was described by US officials as the size of three buses. The US didn’t attribute the second flying object to any country.
Although US officials have access to these reports, whether or not they read them or not, it is up to them whether those reports are included in briefings to senior policymakers.
Rather than treat the object as an immediate threat, the US investigated it to observe and collect intelligence.
The balloon was shot down, but senior Biden officials faced pointed questions from Congress during public hearings and classified briefings about why it didn’t come down sooner.
On January 28, when a balloon entered US airspace, NORAD sent up fighter jets to make a positive identification, according to defense officials.
The risk of shooting down the balloon over land was not considered by officials when it was over US territory.
Military officials said it is not necessarily surprising that the president was not briefed until January 31, given the expectations for the balloon at the time.
Congress has been interested in the administration’s decision-making process on the balloon.
What Do You Need to Know About Alaska? Ask Your Senator: Why the Chinese Balloon is Getting There Faster than It Seems
A Senate Republican aide told CNN there are still questions to be asked about Alaska. Why is it okay for transit to Alaska without telling anyone in the continental US?
One pilot took a photo in his cockpit which shows both the pilot and the balloon itself, and this picture has become famous in both NORAD and the Pentagon.
The Chinese balloon was found to be capable of tracking US communications, according to an official from the Biden administration.
Sources briefed on the matter said the balloon order was dispatched without the knowledge of the Chinese President.
Only evidence that was on the surface of the ocean has been delivered to FBI analysts so far, one official said, which includes the “canopy itself, the wiring, and then a very small amount of electronics.” The burden is where you would expect to see the lion’s share of electronics, according to the official.
The commander of US Northern Command said on Monday that there was not a significant collection hazard beyond the Chinese technical means.
The House was briefed on Thursday morning, and several Republicans were railing against the administration, including one who said the Pentagon made the president look weak.
The safety of the public was the paramount concern the Pentagon had, according to Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat.
I believe that the administration, the president and the military acted with care. At the same time, their capabilities are extraordinarily impressive. Was everything done 100% correctly? I don’t think it would be the case of almost anything we do. Romney said Thursday that he came away more confident.
Defense officials have been briefed on the military’s assessment of the alleged spy balloon over Alaska, and an official from the State Department tells reporters that “not everything happened”
Senators pushed defense officials at an Appropriations Committee hearing on Thursday over the military’s assessment of the Chinese surveillance, with Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana telling officials that he did not know how they could unequivocally say it was not a military threat.
“You guys have to help me understand why this baby wasn’t taken out long before and because I am telling you that that this ain’t the last time. We’ve [seen] brief incursions, now we’ve seen a long incursion, what happens next?,” said Tester, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
The Defense Department was not concerned with the balloon gathering intelligence over Alaska as it was not near sensitive sites, according to Pentagon officials.
The parts of the balloon that sank in the ocean have been delivered so far, officials said, but the effort to recover more pieces of the balloon has been hampered by bad weather.
The officials aren’t sure where the balloon’s parts came from or if they were Made in America. The officials said that there was not a determination as to what the balloon was capable of doing and its specific intent because analysts haven’t examined the whole equipment on the balloon.
In the small portion analyzed, no material that posed a danger to the American public was identified.
There was English writing on parts of the balloon that were found, one of the sources familiar with the congressional briefings said, though they were not high-tech components. The source wouldn’t say what parts of the balloon had English writing.
“As we saw with the second balloon over Central and South America that they just acknowledged, they also have no explanation for why they violated the airspace of Central and South American countries,” the official said. The program will only get exposed, making it harder for the PRC to use it.
As U.S. Navy crews continue to fish parts of the alleged Chinese spy balloon out of the Atlantic, a senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, gave reporters an update on Thursday on some of what has been learned so far.
The main electronics payload, however, has not been recovered yet, one of the FBI officials said, adding that it was “very early” to assess what the intent was and how the device was operating.
The Shoot Down of a High-Altitude Object by US Air Forces: Joe Biden, Markovian Yukawa, and U.S. National Security Officials
“That narrative is probably part of the information and public opinion warfare the U.S. has waged on China,” Mao added. The international community can see who is the world’s number one country for espionage, eavesdropping, and surveilling.
And the government is investing in improvements, too. China launched a project to research materials that can be used to make balloons that can float higher without losing their buoyancy.
President Joe Biden told CNN that the shoot down a “high-altitude object” hovering over Alaska on Friday “was a success,” shortly after American national security officials disclosed that the commander-in-chief gave the US military approval to take the action.
The second time in a week that fighter jets took down an object in US airspace was after the suspected Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina.
Ryder said that the Defense Department had no details about the object’s “capabilities, purpose or origin.” He pointed out that the object was not the same shape or size as the high altitude balloon that was brought down off the coast of South Carolina and that it was a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight.
According to Kirby, Biden was first briefed on the object on Thursday evening, as “soon as the Pentagon had enough information.” Kirby said it appeared that it wasn’t self-maneuvering.
“We were able to get some fighter aircrafts up and around it before the order to shoot it down, and the pilots assessment was this was not manned,” Kirby added.
The military was ordered to down an object by Biden, according to Kirby. Fighter aircraft assigned to US Northern Command brought down the object that came inside territorial airspace. It went down over frozen Arctic Ocean waters near the Canadian border and northeastern Alaska. The US hopes to recover the debris.
The Alaska Command of the US Northern Command coordinated the operation with help from the Alaska Air National Guard, FAA and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Xi Jinping and the News of China: The story of Deadhorse, Alaska, as revealed by the US government on Thursday night
We have the best description for this object, so we are calling it an object. We don’t know who owns it, whether it’s a public or private company.
The object came to the US government’s attention last night. Biden was first briefed Thursday night “as soon as the Pentagon had enough information,” Kirby said.
The object “did not appear to be self-maneuvering, and therefore, (was) at the mercy of prevailing winds,” making it “much less predictable,” said Kirby.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a temporary flight restriction Friday in the area around Deadhorse, Alaska, as the military took action against the object.
CNN reported that it was possible that the assessment could suggest a lack of coordination between the Chinese and US systems during a difficult period in US-China relations.
It could mean that Xi and his top advisers underestimated the potential gravity of the fallout of the mission and the possibility it could imperil Blinken’s visit, which would have been the first from the most senior US diplomat since 2018 and had been welcomed by Beijing as a path to easing strained ties.
Beijing, in a statement last weekend, appeared to link the device to “companies,” rather than the government or military – though in China the prominence of state-owned enterprises and a robust military-industrial complex blurs the line between the two.
“The problem with the centralization of power under Xi Jinping is the lack of delegation of authority to lower levels,” said Thompson, who is a senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
That means that lower-level officials who may have the capacity to more closely monitor such missions may not be empowered to do so, or not be equipped to make political judgments about their impact, he said. Power struggles between lower and higher ranking officials could also complicate communication, he said.
There is a tug of war between lower levels and upper levels throughout the Chinese system, where the lower levels want more power and the upper levels want more control.
The recent Covid-19 outbreak in China is believed to have been a result of these tensions, as well as the 2002-2003 outbreak of the Symbiosis outbreak in China, which was blamed on delays in reporting. Some blamed local officials who were accustomed to a system where information flowed from the top down, not the bottom up.
Balloon launches could also fall into a gap in which operations were not managed or overseen in the same way as space or other aircraft missions, according to Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago.
In this case, entities launching balloons may have received little or no interference from other countries and may be seen as routine due to weather conditions and modest costs.
He said that leaders of these programs have become emboldened over time to test new routes but they probably didn’t get top priority attention from the perspective of political risk.
Chinese Foreign Ministry response to the G20 summit on Friday: What do US officials think about the incident and how it affected China’s response to it?
China’s Foreign Ministry appeared caught off-guard by the situation as it publicly unfolded over the past week – releasing its first explanation of the incident more than 12 hours after the Pentagon announced it was tracking a suspected surveillance balloon.
“Because of his personality, he wants 100% (control),” said Alfred Wu, an associate professor, also at the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. I don’t think he allows for that kind of independence.
The US’s domestic reaction to the incident could have been underestimated, but instead it diverted the attention of a public frustrated with the economic downturn after years under the zero- Covid policy.
Washington may be trying to convey to Beijing that they didn’t know about the situation as they continued the dialogue after their meeting at the G20.
The object was shot down 10 miles off the coast of Alaska on Friday, US officials said, but there were no details about the object.
It’s unclear what the object looks like, or where it came from. On Friday, Ryder said it was traveling north east across Alaska. He declined to provide a physical characterization, only saying that it was “about the size of a small car” and “not similar in size or shape” to the Chinese surveillance balloon that was downed off the coast of South Carolina on February 4.
The object didn’t seem to have any equipment which would make it less sophisticated than the Chinese balloon shot, said a US official.
The object is not related to the Chinese balloon that was downed over the weekend, debris is still being recovered, and officials have given no indication that it is.
recovery teams are searching the ocean floor for debris andmapped the debris field
When asked Friday if lessons learned about China’s balloon assisted in detecting the object shot down over Alaska, Ryder said it was “a little bit of apples and oranges.”