In April 2022, the China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) published a paper that focused on "special aircraft" and concluded that balloons could be used by the military to test enemy air defenses. Following the U.S.'s February 4, 2023 downing, over the Atlantic Ocean, of the Chinese spy balloon that had crossed over the country over the course of a week, official Chinese media said that the incident confirmed that airships can be part of China's air strategy and mocked the U.S. for, it said, spending spent over $1.4 million to pop a $50 balloon. Social media users also commented on the incident; a Weibo user wrote a post titled "An Unmanned Airship Causes The Collapse of Myth of the North American Air Defense System."
The following are excerpts from the PLA article, from official Chinese media, and of the Weibo user's post.
PLA Paper From April 2022: Balloons Can Be Used To "Suppress Enemy Air Defense Early Warning Systems And Shield Air Attack Forces To Carry Out Their Missions"
A paper published in April 2022 by People's Liberation Army (PLA) focused on "special aircraft" and concluded that one of the useful military applications of balloons would be to "suppress enemy air defense early warning systems and shield air attack forces to carry out their missions." It stated:
"(Balloons can) induce and mobilize the enemy's air defense system, providing the conditions for the implementation of electronic reconnaissance, assessment of air defense systems' early warning detection and operational response capabilities.
"In response to the growing threat posed by ground-based air defense systems to air attack forces, it is necessary to use cheap air balloons to create active and passive interference to effectively suppress enemy air defense early warning systems and shield air attack forces to carry out their missions."
Chinese Military Expert: The Incident Confirms That Airships Can Become Part Of China's Air Strategy
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On February 5, after the balloon was shot down, the official Chinese media Guancha.cn published an article titled "The Airship Was Shot Down And Has Fulfilled An Amazing Strategy Research Article Published Nine Years Ago." The article was written by Wang Xiangsui, a retired senior Chinese Air Force colonel who is currently a professor at Beihang University, the director of the Center for Strategic Studies, and the head of the Academic Research Department of the National Security Policy Committee of the China Society of Policy Science. Wang has long worked on military and strategic issues, and he co-authored, with General Qiao Liang, a famous book titled Transfinite Warfare.
In the article, Wang wrote that the incident confirms his contention in a 2014 paper titled "Innovating Air Defense Systems: Long Stays in the Air and Instant Strikes," in which he wrote that "airships that can stay in the air for long periods of time hold the best hope of becoming the core of a new generation of air defense systems."
Notably, the key research conclusion in his 2014 paper was: "Compared with the F-22 fighter jet of the United States, which has achieved technical success but failed in cost and effectiveness ratio, the technology price of airship is relatively lower, the effective load is larger, and can achieve lasting stay in the air. It is also a typical dual-use technology of military and civilian, so it can become the best choice for China to build its domestic air defense system. In fact, the United States is a typical country that has developed airship technology and used airships for military reconnaissance for a long time."
Official CCP Website: The U.S. Spent Over $1.4 Million To Pop A Civilian Balloon That Costs $50 Online
The CCP's official Sina.com website published an article titled "The U.S. Spent 9.55 Million Yuan [$1.47 million] to Blow Up China's Stray Balloon; The Balloon Cost Only 350 Yuan [$50] on Taobao.com."
According to the article, the downed Chinese balloon was developed by Zhuzhou Rubber Institute in Hunan Province, which has developed high-altitude balloons that can fly up to 48,000 meters. The article states: "On Taobao's Zhuzhou Rubber Institute online store, a balloon that can fly 30,000 meters in the air costs only 350 yuan [approximately $50]. The Chinese airship that strayed into the U.S., equipped with some scientific equipment, was certainly more expensive, but probably not too expensive. It has to be said here that 'Made in China' is impressive in bringing so low the cost of high-altitude balloons. Reports say that it took three AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles from an F-22 stealth fighter jet to bring the balloon down. One AIM-9X costs $472,000, costing about $1.41 million for three. The United States spent more than $1 million to pop a civilian balloon. Is this for self-defense, or to win back a little bit of face?"
Weibo User: The Incident Indicates The Collapse Of The Myth Of America's Air Defense Capabilities
On February 6, 2023, a Guangdong-based Weibo user named "Bullshit eggs – 胡扯鸡蛋" published a post titled "An Unmanned Airship Causes The Collapse of Myth of the North American Air Defense System." The post stated:
"This time the balloon took a route from Japan, the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, Canada and finally to the United States, and not over the Pacific Ocean, but over the Arctic route and over the entire air defense system of North America.
"The off-course airship accidentally tested the quality of North American airspace defense systems. It wasn't until one pilot reported the airship that the Americans realized the quality of their so-called North American Airspace Defense was losing its underwear.
"This incident also shows that usually the U.S. air defense altitude is not more than 30,000 meters. The most advanced F-22 carries three air-to-air missiles, of which only one hit and shot down the balloon, while the other two missed. The funny thing is that when the video clearly showed multiple missiles being fired, the U.S. media pretended not to see it, saying that one missile was fired and the balloon was shot down.
"At first, the U.S. Air Force was not sure it could shoot the balloon down until the balloon was lowered to 18,000 meters, when the Americans began to show off, one F22, four F15s, two air tankers, and an aircraft carrier, three missiles, which brought down the unmanned airship."