Navy, Coast Guard Wrap Chinese Spy Balloon Recovery off South Carolina

February 17, 2023 12:28 PM
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va.– Sailors assigned to Assault Craft Unit 4 prepare material recovered in the Atlantic Ocean from a high-altitude balloon for transport to federal agents at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek Feb. 10, 2023. US Navy Photo

The Navy and Coast Guard have finished collecting the remnants of a Chinese high altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina, U.S. Northern Command announced Friday.

“Recovery operations concluded Feb. 16 off the coast of South Carolina, after U.S. Navy assets assigned to U.S. Northern Command successfully located and retrieved debris from the high-altitude PRC surveillance balloon shot down Feb. 4, 2023,” reads a statement from NORTHCOM. “Final pieces of debris are being transferred to the [FBI] labratory in Virginia for counterintelligence exploitation, as has occurred with the previous surface and subsurface debris recovered. U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard vessels have departed the area. Air and maritime safety perimeters have been lifted.”

As of late Thursday night, the contracted offshore supply vessel HOS Rosebud was sailing toward Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Va., according to maritime tracking data. Amphibious warship USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) and divers from the Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Group 2 had also removed the remains of the balloon – comprised of a 200 foot envelope and a surveillance payload of several thousand pounds about the size of a regional commercial jet.

USNS Pathfinder (T-AGS-60), guided-missile destroyer USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79) and guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG-58) were also on scene just after the crash.

HOS Rosebud underway off the coast of Virginia Beach, Va., on Feb. 8, 2023. Photo by John Morgan used with permission

The debris field for the balloon – downed from about 65,000 feet by a F-22 Raptor firing an AIM-9X anti-air missile – was just about a square mile at depths of about 50 feet. The shallow depth and compact debris area led to a quick collection of materials, defense officials told USNI News.

Now with the material in hand, the FBI will analyze the remnants at laboratories in Quantico, Va.

Since the shoot down off the coast of South Carolina, NORTHCOM has destroyed three other balloons – Feb. 10 over Alaska, Feb. 11 over the Yukon territory in Canada and over Lake Huron near Michigan. In remarks at the White House yesterday President Joe Biden said the unidentified objects did not originate in China.

“We don’t yet know what these three objects were, but nothing right now suggests that they were related to China’s spy balloon program or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country,” Biden said.
“I gave the order to take down these three objects due to hazards to civilian commercial air traffic, and because we could not rule out the surveillance risk over sensitive facilities.”

Of three that were shot down, one could belong to a group of amateur radio and balloon hobbyists in Illinois, reported Aviation Week on Thursday.

The Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade are concerned their high-flying pico balloon could have been the object downed over the Yukon.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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