The U.S. military admitted on Monday that it failed to detect Chinese spy balloons that entered into U.S. airspace during the Trump administration.
The news comes after the U.S. military used an F-22 Raptor on Saturday to take out a Chinese spy balloon 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.
After the balloon was shot down, reports surfaced that there were similar incursions that happened during the Trump administration but that those incidents were undetected. Fox News reported that a Chinese spy balloon crashed in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii late last year.
VanHerck, Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), told reporters: “Every day as a NORAD commander, it’s my responsibility to detect threats to North America.”
“I will tell you that we did not detect those threats,” said VanHerck. “And that’s a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out, but I don’t want to go into further detail.”
The Biden administration has reached out to key officials in the Trump administration and offered them briefings on how they discovered that these spy balloons had previously operated in U.S. airspace while not being detected. The Biden administration also wants to brief the former Trump officials about similar operations China is conducting in East Asia, South Asia and Europe.
Bloomberg News reported that some Trump-era officials eventually learned that the balloons were a part of Chinese surveillance but that the officials would only learn about it weeks after the fact because the balloons carried jamming devices. The report said that Trump never had the opportunity to shoot them down.
The report added that the three incidents under Trump and an earlier incident in the Biden administration were smaller incidents because the balloons loitered over U.S. airspace for much shorter periods of time than what happened last week.
Politico reported that U.S. officials have discovered similar incursions by much smaller Chinese spy balloons in recent years, including a radar-jamming device off the coast of Virginia.