Did you know that the U.S. intelligence community has a number of balloons flying over the United States at very high altitude — e.g., 90,000 feet? They do. I recommend the following video for your enlightenment. It is by a former U.S. military special operations bubba who knows how to read and decipher air traffic. Meet Mr. Monkey Werx:
What I tried to convey in my previous article was the lack of international agreement governing overflights of a nation’s territory by balloons, fixed wing and satellites. There is an international consensus about aircraft that operate in controlled airspace. And countries such as the United States, Russia and China will shoot down a fixed wing intruder.
Remember Gary Powers? He piloted a U2 spy plane over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960, flying at 70,000 feet. The United States mistakenly believed the Soviets had no weapon system capable of taking out a plane at that altitude. We learned the hard way that our intelligence had some major gaps.
Today that ceiling is even higher. Frankly, any fixed wing spy plane flying on the edge of space could be shot down because the U.S., Russia and China have missiles capable of reaching them. There is no international agreement that I can find (if you come up with one please pass along) that imposes a cap proscribing a fixed wing air flight over a country.
Let suggest another explanation why the United States so far has declined to shoot down the Chinese spy balloon. Could it be that the United States has similar balloons at 100,000 feet loitering over China or Russia (or just outside their national boundaries) and do not want to risk losing those balloons in retaliation if we take out the Chinese one currently sauntering above the United States? While I have never held clearances on such systems I would not be surprised that such a capability was kept in a highly protected SAP (Special Access Program). Balloons can gather more precise and voluminous intelligence than your average satellite.
If you watched the Monkey Werx video you realize that most folks have no idea about the various intelligence platforms that are working out of sight overhead.
What you need to understand is that once a balloon is above controlled air space it is in a legal gray zone with no controlling treaty or international law. The fact that the U.S. has spy balloons operating at the upper reaches of earth’s atmosphere helps explain why the United States has resisted efforts to create clarity and definition on this frontier.
One final thought. I have listened to a number of politicians voicing outrage at this violation of U.S. air space. I just wish they were equally upset by the millions of illegal immigrants flooding the U.S. southern border. I conclude they are really not serious about doing something substantive that would make a real difference in the lives of American citizens and in the lives of those immigrants who are being exploited by narcotics cartels and human trafficking rings.