Days after the US Air Force shot down an espionage balloon from Communist China over South Carolina’s coast, head of America’s air defenses, Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, admitted to failures to “spot” Beijing’s earlier intrusions of the same sort.
‘Domain Awareness Gap’ Admitted
The Chinese spy balloon allegedly collected vital espionage information to benefit the Chinese and their military.
There have been reports that at least three Chinese spy balloons intruded into America’s air space while Trump was president and another Chinese spy balloon collapsed in the Pacific near Hawaii, several months ago.
Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Gen. VanHerck, who is in charge of NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) and the NORTHCOM (the US Northern Command), was forthcoming on earlier omissions, signifying a gap in US defenses.
VanHerck’s revelation came after the Chinese spy balloon went so far into US airspace that it couldn’t be shot down without a risk to the civilians. This left the US Air Force waiting for the device to float to the Atlantic Coast before it could tackle it safely.
In his comments to reporters, the NORAD and NORTHCOM commander acknowledged it was his job to detect any threats to all of North America.
He admitted that NORAD “did not detect those threats.” The general called the omission a “domain awareness gap” that had to be figured out and fixed.
VanHerck said his command didn’t know in real-time about the four alleged cases of Chinese spy balloons entering US air space.
He said NORAD was alerted about the latest case and those before it by the US intelligence community, The Air and Space Forces Magazine reported.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense has informed my office that several Chinese balloon incidents have happened in the past few years – including over FLorida.
Why weren’t they shot down?
— Rep. Mike Waltz (@michaelgwaltz) February 5, 2023
NORAD missed Chinese spy balloon flights during Trump admin, general admits https://t.co/u1LhO32DN8 pic.twitter.com/vmYA23ZitA
— New York Post (@nypost) February 6, 2023
John Bolton on the Chinese balloon: "When it was first sighted near Alaska on the 28th of January, according to press reports – NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, apparently decided it was not threatening. I'd like to know how they know." https://t.co/3GMP5xEvUt pic.twitter.com/OMqGhO2zO0
— The Hill (@thehill) February 7, 2023
The US Missed the Right Time to Shoot It Down
The Air Force general said the Chinese surveillance balloon was up to 200 feet in height and had a payload of some 2,000 pounds, which was the “jet airline type.”
The balloon entered America’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) for the first time on January 28 over the Aleutian Islands south of Alaska. After that, it floated over Canada and again entered the US air space on January 31 over Idaho.
VanHerck said at first, NORAD didn’t shoot down the balloon because it wasn’t “hostile.” Later, its destruction would have threatened the lives of civilians on the ground.
By the time Biden ordered the flying apparatus to be shot down, it had become visible to civilians. It was floating over silos with US nuclear missiles in Montana.
It was shot down by an F-22 fighter jet of the US Air Force using an air-to-air missile, but only after going beyond the US mainland.
The general noted the balloon was no “physical military threat” to the US, which is why it was shot down only after the case was raised to the highest government levels.
VanHerck emphasized the US military “covered” the balloon and “minimized any collection” of data it may have performed. Communist China claimed the device was a weather balloon and the US downing it was illegal under international law.
US National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said such allegations were “disingenuous.”
NORAD and U.S. Northern Command statement on the high-altitude surveillance balloon. pic.twitter.com/dfdCOHf8Vf
— North American Aerospace Defense Command (@NORADCommand) February 3, 2023
This is from the @DeptofDefense press briefing yesterday on #balloon recovery efforts, with General VanHerck, commander of NORAD and NORTHCOMhttps://t.co/lodIMsclFF pic.twitter.com/aVRGGftIGW
— Morgan Brennan (@MorganLBrennan) February 7, 2023