Senior US official says China’s spy balloons ‘are not very important’
A senior US defense official dismisses China’s use of surveillance balloons as a distraction, calling them insignificant to the larger problem posed by Beijing’s growing ability to weaponize space.
China’s use of spy balloons has been in the news since the Pentagon announced it was tracking one of the high-altitude craft as it crossed the continental United States last February.
Since then, the US has shot down a handful of Chinese balloons and other suspicious objects at high altitudes, sometimes using advanced weapons and US officials have even acknowledged the balloon was capable of gathering information around sensitive military sites. .
But Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Monday that in some ways China’s use of balloons, which Beijing has described as weather balloons, is a distraction.
“They have a very aggressive intelligence-gathering program. The balloons are a very small part of it and not very important,” Kendall told reporters during a briefing at the Defense Writers Group in Washington.
What worries her most, Kendall says, is higher.
“The spatial part is very important and very consequential,” he said. “They link their space capabilities to their operational forces.”
Other US officials have also warned against China’s advances in space.
“China sees space as a potential vulnerability for the United States,” Doug Wade, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s China mission group, said last March.
“There are a variety of space and anti-space assets or capabilities in China that we are very concerned about,” Wade said, calling Beijing’s space program “second only to the United States.”
US Chief of Space Operations General Chance Saltzman also warned of Beijing’s growing prowess, calling China “our most significant threat to and from space”.
Kendall said Monday that it is precisely China’s growing ability to use its satellites to track American troops and assets that makes him “very concerned.”
“A big part of that operational capability is surveillance, reconnaissance, targeting…to do things like try to target aircraft carriers, try to target mobile units, ground units of different types,” he said. he declares. “That’s potentially a huge efficiency improvement for them.”
Despite calls from officials like Kendall for lawmakers to focus on China’s space capabilities, some lawmakers have pushed to address the potential threat from high-altitude balloons.
“THE [U.S. Northern Command commander] told us he had additional unfunded requirements for the Air Force on the horizon and long-range expeditionary radars,” said Democrat Jon Tester, chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. , during an audition last month.
“We have to provide the resources, and I think this committee on both sides of the aisle wants to make sure our nation is safe and provide the resources to do that,” Tester added.
The Air Force’s Kendall called on lawmakers to pass a defense budget on time and support modernization efforts, including reforms that would allow the service more flexibility to better respond to advances in the China.
“The threat to our airbases, the threats to our aircraft carriers, their air superiority… have been going on for some time and we haven’t responded, I think, as quickly as we should have,” he said. , adding that in some cases, “We give China more than a year for no good reason.”