China and other countries routinely launch powered balloons. The trajectory of these devices can be controlled and normally they don’t engage in airspace incursions, especially of other nuclear powers. Last week, however, a Chinese powered balloon carrying an instrument payload the size of a 2 large vans was directed over Montana and remained on station there for some days. There was an immediate protest from the United States and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken cancelled his first planned meeting with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, a major response from the U.S. Today (Saturday, February 4) the U.S. shot down the device after it was safely over the Atlantic Ocean.

The 341st Missile Wing is located at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. The wing controls 150 launch facilities. U.S. strategic missile control systems are not connected to the internet and use forms of intranet communications that involve only wire-line. There are no electronic interfaces that can be hacked. Much has been made of the idea that the Chinese could collect whatever data they might want about these systems from satellites. This is not correct. The reason is that the only telltale emissions from such systems are localized and not detectable from satellite distances. It is probable that some emissions could be detected from 10 miles in space. During the cold war, telephone wire-line emissions could be detected, received and analyzed across hundreds of miles. The fact that a balloon was also observed over Costa Rica suggests that the viability of using a monitoring station in Latin America is under study. It would use a more sensitive version of technology that the U.S. used to monitor Soviet military wire-line communications during the Cold War.

The most likely reason for the incursion would be to determine whether or not there are any detectable signals coming from U.S. missile wings that might give Chinese military intelligence early warning of impending deployment. It is probable that the incursion is part of a runup to an invasion of Taiwan.

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  1. Thanks Whitley for answering my questions about this balloon, which I’ve been wondering about, watching TV to learn the answers, and they haven’t been forthcoming.

  2. According to Wolf Blitzer’s special report on this balloon surveillance late Saturday afternoon February 4th on CNN cable TV, his national security interviewees stated that the US can block eavesdropping on these local transmissions from balloon surveillance; if so, the balloon craft would not be able to detect much in the way of usable local communications. Wolf Blitzer also reported that the captured balloon will undergo analysis at the US FBI Quantico installation this weekend and beyond.

  3. It could also be a way to make us look vulnerable, and also show that China is more ‘powerful’ on the world stage. Frankly, we haven’t been looking impressive at all the last few years, just the opposite. Our politics and divisiveness as a nation is probably making them quite pleased, and this incident just proved it even more. Also, they probably are not disappointed that Anthony Blinken called off his visit, so no coincidence about the timing.

    Mind games…

    …And will we get the truth about the the downed balloon from our own government? I’m not even sure about that.

  4. For those curious about how a vehicle that, for centuries, has been notoriously unsteerable, it is accomplished by pumping air into what Raven Aerostar refers to as a “ballonette”, a ballast that can change the altitude of the balloon to take advantage of air currents that are going in a favourable direction; this was originally being developed for Alphabet Inc’s (Google’s parent company) Project Loon, allowing their balloon-borne internet stations to loiter in a specific area when needed.

    Although this doesn’t appear to be as flexible an ability as something like the steerability of an aircraft, it’s probably more appropriate to think of it like how a sailboat is limited to travelling in directions that the wind will allow, but can be compensated for by tacking, zig-zagging to reach an upwind destination. Although there has been a lot of confusion as to why a balloon such as this might be used instead of a spy satellite, these satellites are moving at more than four and a half miles per second, and thus cannot remain stationary above their target; a steerable balloon, on the other hand, can.

  5. News updates…

    Apparently, these balloons are not new, and have involved nations all over the world. The U.S. did not sit up and take notice, or seem concerned , until this incident, which probably wasn’t first here in America.

    And that’s not all…This story is just creepy…Even our satellite “trackers” don’t know what they are tracking.

    Mysterious Russian satellite breaks up in orbit, generating cloud of debris


    There are the balloons and then the objects being said to be sort of like tick tack’s and other shapes from what I gather as it seems like perhaps a mix of agendas and where some originate from.
    The fact they are also in South America as well as Central America adds some more dimensions to this high weirdness. This year is really something so far! Anyhow, take care people and at least for me some of this with the whole “balloon” thing smacks of the Roswell incident. It’s kind of sad that it takes incidents like this which are ongoing for there to be a broader discussion about UAP’s/UFO’s or whatever they are. …just my two cents

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