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We're apparently out of the balloon-shooting business

Department of Defense via AP

It’s been a while since we had a good mystery balloon passing through US airspace story, so we might as well touch on this one while we have the chance. Something has once again passed over the Hawaiian Islands at an altitude of roughly 36,000 feet. It reportedly looked like a balloon, but the Defense Department once again can’t say what it was with any certainty. But even without knowing, they felt confident in saying that it was not being controlled by any “foreign or adversarial actor.” In fact, it didn’t appear to be demonstrating any controlled movement. They sent some fighters up to check it out, but we’re not even being told how big it was. Since it reportedly didn’t pass over any sensitive military installations, and it’s currently heading toward Mexico, it was determined that it wouldn’t be shot down. (Politico)

After monitoring an unmanned balloon spotted off the coast of Hawaii over the weekend, U.S. officials have determined that “no action need be taken” to remove the mysterious unmanned object.

The Defense Department and the Federal Aviation Authority first spotted the object April 28, a DoD spokesperson said Monday. Though it is unclear whom the object belongs to, it did not appear that it was controlled by “a foreign or adversarial actor,” the spokesperson said.

The story was first reported by NBC News, though not many more details were provided. Leah Barkoukis has more on this at Townhall.

Why does it still sound like we’re being caught off guard by these unidentified (and apparently unidentifiable) “ballon-like entities,” as AARO likes to call them? The Pentagon told NBC News that there is definitely “a checklist” in place when determining how to handle them. This involves how much of a threat the object may present, if it appears to be navigating, etc. If so, that’s great.

But there are still elements to the story that don’t seem to be matching up. They’re saying it’s not from China but they also say they don’t know where it came from. Well, if you don’t know, how do you know it’s not from China? Also, in terms of a threat, not all threats are military in nature. The balloon or whatever it is was flying at 36,000 feet. That is squarely in the middle of the altitude band where commercial jets fly.

I suppose they could be checking the object’s flight path against known airline routes and schedules, so perhaps that’s fine. And if it’s on a significantly more southerly route than the last few, then we can let it be Mexico’s problem. But if it or the next one does head for America’s protected airspace, what do they plan to do? If we’re going to keep shooting these things down, are they going to consider using something a bit less expensive than a sidewinder missile?

We sent three F-22 Raptors up to look at the object. In addition to its AMRAAMs and Sidewinders, the Raptor has a 20mm Gatling gun with a large reservoir of ammunition. I didn’t do a price check on 20mm rounds, but I’m fairly confident they cost a lot less than a Sidewinder. We’re talking about a balloon here, or at least something looks an awful lot like one. You would imagine that bullets might pop it. And if it doesn’t have any sort of metal technology platform attached to it as the Chinese balloon did, it’s probably not going to hurt anyone when it deflates and comes down.

At any rate, this particular object doesn’t seem to be a big deal, or at least so far it doesn’t. But perhaps it’s good that we’re watching the Pentagon and the White House going through this exercise. If we don’t have a solid policy in place for dealing with these things, somebody should get to work on that asap. Or we’re going to wind up with egg on our faces… again.

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David Strom 12:40 PM | July 24, 2024
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