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Explosives may have been on Chinese spy balloon, general says

China's President Xi Jinping. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)
February 06, 2023

The Chinese spy balloon that was shot down after flying over the U.S. last week was possibly carrying explosives, according to a top military official.

The balloon, which was 200 feet tall and carried a surveillance payload the size of a jetliner, could have been carrying explosives “to detonate and destroy the balloon,” said U.S. Air Force General Glen VanHerck, according to Politico reporter Lara Seligman.

VanHerck added that there was no evidence of explosives on the balloon, Reuters reported, but said the possibility factored into the decision to shoot it down over open water.

An F-22 fighter jet shot down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday after it had spent nearly a week flying across the continental U.S., including near nuclear missile silos in Montana.

As the incident grew into a diplomatic crisis between increasingly competitive superpowers, China claimed the balloon was a civilian weather research craft blown off course and warned of possible consequences for downing it over the Atlantic Ocean.

VanHerck on Monday also confirmed that multiple previous Chinese balloons had breached U.S. airspace undetected under previous administrations. Officials previously told Fox News that at least one Chinese spy balloon flew over portions of Texas and Florida under President Donald Trump, and four months ago, one crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.

“I will tell you that we did not detect those threats, and that’s a domain awareness gap,” VanHerck said, according to Reuters.

VanHerck said multiple military vessels are now helping to collect debris from the balloon, which has been found in an area of roughly 1,500 square meters, Reuters reported. Officials have not yet disclosed how well any surveillance equipment survived the fall from about 58,000 feet.

This was a breaking news story. The details were periodically updated as more information became available.