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What Are Spy Balloons? Explained Simply

By Sthitee Mohanty, senior writer.

Spy balloons were sighted by the U.S.A., and one balloon was shot down…

By I Kid You Not , in Facts to Know World News , at February 26, 2023 Tags:

By Sthitee Mohanty, senior writer.

Recently, some unidentified flying objects have been seen in the US. China and U.S.A. are accusing each of espionage (spying) on the other over the sightings of “spy” balloons

Some also believe that these balloons are UFOs, a sign of extraterrestrial presence.

Quick Facts on the spy balloons story

  • Spy balloons were sighted by the U.S.A., and one balloon was shot down
  • U.S.A. claims the balloons are helping China spy on its country
  • China claims the balloon is just a weather surveillance device gone off-path
  • A similar white balloon observed in Latin American skies reports Pentagon
  • Beijing releases ungrounded claims of U.S.A. spy balloons flying over Tibet and Xinjiang regions

Good to know…

Spy balloons have been used for war surveillance by both countries before

What are spy balloons/observation balloons?

Spy balloons are low-flying surveillance aircraft many people mistakenly believe to be UFOs.

These spy balloons may be observation balloons. They are often used for collecting information and meteorological (weather-related) data.

These balloons came from the designs of hot-air balloons. Today, they are filled with inert gases like helium instead of inflammable hydrogen.

They give a bird’s eye view of the area they are flying above. Today’s balloons fly well above commercial airplanes.

Are these balloons actually spying?

We cannot say for sure.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has stated that due to weather malfunction, the balloon deviated into US airspace. It claims that this balloon is a weather balloon,

What we do know is that such balloons have been used for surveillance since the 18th century. Such devices have been used in both World Wars. They collected information on the movements of the enemy army.

Currently, high-altitude balloons are popular.

Why use these spy balloons instead of satellites?

Satellites are sophisticated technology pieces – they are expensive and need to be launched properly. 

These balloons on the hand, are cheap. They can be roughly guided to a specific point by using wind currents.

These balloons hover over the same place for a sufficient amount of time. This helps in taking pictures and gathering quality data.

What do aliens have to do with this?

People have always been fascinated by flying objects that defy the laws of physics. Many military pilots have reported sightings of aerial objects they cannot identify. These objects may simply have been innovative technology.

Yet termed as unidentified flying objects or UFOs in popular culture, people believe that these are signs justifying alien presence on Earth.

It is all hearsay. Due to some confusion from the US government regarding these balloons being shot down, some people brought up the question of aliens.

Air space legislations

There are rules regarding the air space (the air available for aircraft flight, subject to the jurisdiction of a particular country according to geography) of each country! Air space laws help countries legally go after any aircraft that trespasses a country’s defined airspace. A country can regulate entry into its airspace as per its security needs.

According to International Air Law, every country has the right to its sovereign airspace. It can allow or disallow aircraft from its airspace, based on protecting its people. 

Yes, commercial flights follow these rules too – that is why they have such strict schedules!

Has either country ever used these balloons for spying before?

Occasions of use by the U.S.A. over other countries

CountryProject Name
China, Eastern Europe, Erstwhile Soviet Union Project Genetrix, 1956
Erstwhile USSRProject HOMERUN 1956
IraqAerostat Systems, 2004

Reports claim that China has used spy balloons over India and Japan numerous times as well.

Reasons for escalating tensions between U.S.A. and China:

  • The Taiwan – South China Sea Conflict

The People’s Republic of China refuses to recognize Taiwan as an independent state after its democratization. Visit by US government personnel have been seen as unfavorable to Chinese sentiments.

  • Restrictions on Hong Kong

Hong Kong has maintained a tumultuous relationship with China over its sovereignty. The U.S.A. maintains that Hong Kong is a free state and supports its autonomy. This goes against China’s views.

  • China’s Human Rights Violations

China has reportedly committed human rights violations in its Xinjiang region. It went against the reproductive rights of its people.

  • Ongoing economic conflict – a trade war

Both China and the U.S.A. compete to dominate the world market. China is poised to be a superpower, threatening the U.S.A.’s international position.


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