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U.S. Air Force General Glen VanHerck told reporters on Monday that the Chinese spy balloon that was shot down off the coast of South Carolina over the weekend was potentially carrying explosives on board so it could self-destruct.
The news comes after the U.S. military used an F-22 Raptor on Saturday to take out a Chinese spy balloon off over the Atlantic Ocean using a single air-to-air AIM-9X Sidewinder missile that was fired at an altitude of approximately 58,000 feet. The decision to shoot down the spy balloon came after President Joe Biden allowed it to fly thousands of miles over the continental U.S. last week.
VanHerck, Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), said that the balloon was up to 200 feet tall and weighed “in excess of a couple thousand pounds.”
He also said that officials believe it potentially carried explosives “to detonate and destroy the balloon.”
Wow: Northcom chief Gen. VanHerck says the balloon was up to 200 ft tall, with a payload the size of a jetliner. It weighed "in excess of a couple thousand lbs" and potentially carried explosives " to detonate and destroy the balloon."
— Lara Seligman (@laraseligman) February 6, 2023
VanHerck told reporters that the military normally does not have authority to gather intelligence with the United States on a day-to-day basis but that in this case “specific authorities were granted to collect intelligence against the balloon.”
“It was my assessment that this balloon did not present a physical military threat to North America,” VanHerck continued. “This is under my NORAD hat, and therefore I could not take immediate action [against the balloon] because it was not demonstrating hostile act or hostile intent.”
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that the spy balloon had propellers and a rudder to help it navigate its way, but its maneuverability was reportedly limited.
“They utilize their maneuverability to strategically position themselves to utilize the winds to traverse portions of countries that they want to see for collection purposes,” VanHerck added.
Gen. VanHerck of NORAD/NORTHCOM offers more on how these balloons navigate: "They utilize their maneuverability to strategically position themselves to utilize the winds to traverse portions of countries that they want to see for collection purposes."
— Matt Seyler (@MattSeyler) February 6, 2023
This report has been updated to included additional information.