Losses and Aviation Safety

The US Navy found the wreck of the Chinese high-altitude spy balloon shot down on Saturday by a USAF F-22 Raptor

Sailors assigned to US Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recovered the Chinese high-altitude spy balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Feb. 5, 2023.

Sailors assigned to US Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recovered the Chinese high-altitude spy balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Feb. 5, 2023.

The main image of this article was released on Wednesday Feb. 8 and shows sailors pulling up the fabric from the balloon’s envelope from the ocean and picking through other flotsam. The unit has also been using Mk-18 Mod 1 Lionfish and Mk-18 Mod 2 Kingfish unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) equipped with side scan sonar to hunt for debris in the shallow water.

Moreover, USNI News reports that according to ship spotters HOS Rosebud, a contracted offshore supply vessel, departed from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Va., bound for the crash site of the Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina, on Wednesday afternoon. According to Defense officials the ship embarks additional material to help recover the remains of the surveillance balloon.

The 200-foot balloon and its commuter jet-sized surveillance package underneath were shot down on Saturday by a US Air Force F-22 Raptor and since then Navy divers, warships and Coast Guard cutters have been on station around the debris field, Pentagon officials said. The balloon crashed in about 50 feet of water inside territorial waters just off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C.

According to automated identification system (AIS) signals amphibious warship USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) and the Coast Guard 87-foot patrol USCGC Yellowfin (WPB-87319) were near the shootdown site as of Wednesday afternoon. Coast Guard cutters USCGC Venturous (WMEC-625), USCGC Richard Snyder (WPC-1127) and USCGC Nathan B. Bruckenthal (WPC-1128) were assisting in patrolling the debris field.

HOS Rosebud

US Navy surveillance ship USNS Pathfinder (T-AGS-60), guided-missile destroyer USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79) and guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG-58) were on scene just after the crash but have since departed. As of Wednesday evening, Pathfinder was steaming north off the coast of North Carolina, according to AIS.

As Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder explained to reporters on Wednesday, rough weather prevented searches earlier in the week but, “sea states Tuesday permitted divers and explosives ordnance technicians to conduct underwater salvage and recovery, and underwater survey activities continue using unmanned underwater vehicles.”

Ryder added that “USS Carter Hall remains in the vicinity of the debris field and is leading the recovery efforts. US Coast Guard cutters continue to provide security, and the FBI and NCIS agents continue their work cataloging debris and transporting it for further processing.”

More complex salvage UUVs and other systems that can bring larger pieces of debris to the surface are carried by Rosebud. According to USNI News similar systems were used to recover a US Navy F-35C from more than 12,500 feet underwater in the Pacific. Officials have said that the surveillance package slung under the envelope of the balloon is thought to weigh several thousand pounds.

Beyond the current recovery mission, the Pentagon acknowledged the wreck was part of a sophisticated Chinese surveillance operation, and there have been at least four other US overflights by other spy balloons.

As already reported, China claimed the balloon was a weather balloon that had drifted off course.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-22A Raptor 192nd Fighter Wing, 149th Fighter Squadron, FF/04-4082 – Langley AFB, VA – 2014

“China regrets that the airship strayed into the United States due to force majeure,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement Feb. 3., referring to a situation out of its control.

But a senior defense official said that “Clearly the intent of this balloon is for surveillance. And so, the current flight path does carry it over a number of sensitive sites.”

This episode increased tensions between the two countries.

The incident in fact led to the cancellation of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s scheduled visit to China, which was supposed to occur Feb. 3. It would have been the first cabinet-level visit by a US official to occur during the Biden administration. High-level military-to-military talks between China and the US have not occurred despite a recent public plea by Austin after a Chinese jet intercepted a US Air Force RC-135 over the South China Sea in what the Pentagon said was an unsafe manner.

Finally Air Mobility Command boss Gen. Mike Minihan recently generated international headlines when a memo to his Airmen in which he suggested the US “will fight in 2025” with China leaked to the media. As Air & Space Forces Magazine reported, in the days that followed, national security experts and even Airmen themselves have split on the message, with some praising Minihan for his plain talk and others worrying that he needlessly turned up tensions with his rhetoric.

Photo credit: US Navy and Hornbeck Offshore Services

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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