Focus: China has strong interest in military use of high-altitude balloons | Reuters

BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States and China are at odds over a Chinese reconnaissance balloon that flew over the U.S. mainland, but dozens of Chinese documents, including researcher papers, indicate that China It appears that there is growing interest in using high-altitude balloon technology for military purposes.

On February 6, the United States and China are at odds over the incident in which a Chinese reconnaissance balloon flew over the mainland of the United States. It seems that there is growing interest in the use of advanced balloon technology for military purposes. A reconnaissance balloon believed to belong to China is shot down off Surfside Beach, South Carolina, in 2023. REUTERS/Randall Hill

China’s foreign ministry has repeatedly claimed that the balloon that flew over the US mainland was “for research purposes and deviated from its flight course.” But Chinese military researchers recently argued in a publicly available paper that balloons should be developed and deployed for specific operations.

A paper published in April last year by a PLA research institute that studies “special aircraft” described balloons as “capable of inducing and activating the enemy’s air defense system, and the conditions for carrying out electronic reconnaissance and air defense. It can evaluate the system’s early warning detection and measure its operational response capability.” He argued that one of its military usefulness was its ability to test enemy air defenses.

Several sources, including this paper and other publications under the control of the People’s Liberation Army, indicate that the Chinese military has a strong interest in researching the past military use of balloons in other countries, including the United States, and is seeking to close the gap in this field. It can be read that you have a clear intention to do so.

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While some U.S. officials believe China has more sophisticated methods of gathering intelligence on adversaries, such as spy satellite networks, the People’s Liberation Army paper notes that balloons are less expensive to use and less expensive to use. is one of the reasons why deployment should be increased.

The paper, published in a professional journal on subjects such as signal jamming and electronic warfare, describes “a low-cost balloon-based active and It is necessary to carry out passive sabotage operations, effectively suppress enemy air defense early warning systems, and cover the mission performance of air strike forces.”

“In order to close the gap with foreign countries on balloons, prevent China from being attacked by such weapons, and strengthen our military’s offensive capabilities, we should actively research related operational issues.” I’m complaining.

Among regional security analysts, the balloons could also be used to collect stratospheric data to aid China’s missile program, or to take high-resolution photographs to supplement information provided by satellites. Some say.

<Technology purchase>

China’s military and state research institutes have purchased high-altitude balloons and related technology over the past two years, according to a Reuters analysis of government tender documents.

The Space Information Innovation Institute under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) is one of the national institutions showing interest in ballooning, and frequently publishes topics related to high-altitude ballooning on its official account on China’s WeChat chat app. are doing.

Many focus on space exploration and the aerodynamics of balloons, but some analyze the past military use of balloons, looking at how other nations defended themselves against the threat of balloons and how aggressive they were. It has also been used for

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In April last year, an article was published titled “New Reconnaissance Balloon Defends Israeli Skies.”

In September last year, CAS received an order of 3.16 million yuan (about 61.5 million yen) for the development of a “stratospheric balloon platform” for another department in a government tender. A month later, he announced that he had successfully tested a balloon that flew 30 kilometers and weighed up to 1.2 tons.

According to an article posted on the CAS website, the test was part of a high-priority project for CAS to develop space technology. Neither project mentions military applications.

One of CAS’s primary mandates is to support technological breakthroughs in defense projects.

(Reporters Eduardo Baptista, Greg Torode)

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