The Chinese balloon shot down over the weekend “had multiple antennas” and used equipment which was “clearly for intelligence surveillance”, according to the US government. The device was “capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations” and has been deployed over “more than 40 countries across five continents”, a senior State Department official told a background briefing on Thursday.
New details have emerged after Navy sailors recovered debris from the downed vessel in water off the US coast.
Images showed white material from the balloon and a metal frame being lowered into a rescue boat after it was taken out of the sky by a fighter jet.
Beijing has described the White House decision to shoot it down as an “obvious overreaction” and maintains the 200 foot balloon was a weather monitoring device.
However, with analysis underway and divers continuing to search the Atlantic Ocean for debris, the US is adamant it is a surveillance tool.
“The high altitude balloon’s equipment was clearly for intelligence surveillance and inconsistent with the equipment onboard weather balloons,” the unnamed US official said, according to the BBC.
“It had multiple antennas to include an array likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications. It was equipped with solar panels large enough to produce the requisite power to operate multiple active intelligence collection sensors.”
The US Department of State also believes the balloon forms part of a fleet which has performed similar operations in 40 countries over five continents.
General Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said earlier in the week it was potentially carrying explosives to destroy itself.
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Growing tension prompted the postponement of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to China over the weekend, which he has yet to reschedule.
Beijing’s Foreign Ministry has insisted the device was a “civilian airship” which had accidentally strayed off course.
“Affected by the westerly wind and with limited self-control ability, the airship seriously deviated from the scheduled route,” it said.
“China regrets that the airship strayed into the United States due to force majeure.”