It is hard to believe that a 200-foot Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon could enter US sovereign air space and no one noticed. More frightening is the thought that the same balloon could have been carrying a small nuclear device. Or, what if the Defense Department noticed, then waited four days to brief the president? The scenario that played out for more than a week reveals a perilous strategic gap in decision-making and responsibility to defend the homeland.
First to point out the strategic defense problem was Paul Bedard in the Washington Examiner, “Dry run: Balloons called top ‘delivery platform’ for nuclear EMP attack.” Electromagnetic pulses (EMP) are generated by detonating a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere. Bedard pointed to a 2016 American Leadership & Policy Foundation report that explained the danger of EMP weapons and the ease with which a high-altitude balloon can transport them. The higher the altitude the air burst takes place, the wider the area the effects are felt.
A Balloon Carrying a Nuclear EMP Device Could Be Devastating
“Electromagnetic pulses (EMP) from nuclear weapon detonations at altitudes from 18 to 50 miles [the Beijing balloon was a bit over 11 miles] can damage or destroy sensitive electronic equipment at ground level,” according to a US Air Force Civil Engineer Center publication. It went on to warn that there is significant potential for rendering military communication equipment inoperable, disrupting command and control operations, and impeding “federal, state, or local agency missions and operations.” Destroying critical high-tech electronic equipment would drastically hinder emergency rescue and recovery efforts just when needed most.
Quoting the 2016 American Leadership & Policy Foundation report’s author, Air Force Major David Stuckenberg, a top expert in EMP technology:
“In the case of EMP, the consequences of a failure to anticipate ALL delivery modes within the reach of an imaginative enemy could be immediate and widespread. As guardians of our nation’s future, planners must leave no stone unturned in the effort to deprive America’s enemies of low cost, low tech, high-consequence military options.”
Was Beijing’s balloon sent over to test the US response time or to collect intelligence data? The American public will probably never know. However, the Biden administration’s handling of the episode demonstrated a significant strategic gap in America’s homeland defense. As Liberty Nation reported: “So, the Chinese surveillance craft illegally entered the US and Canadian sovereign airspace and cruised at 60,000 for roughly four days before President Biden said he was briefed.” And during the balloon’s leisurely journey across America, instrumentation collected whatever intelligence it was seeking. When the US military took countermeasures to block or jam signals the Chinese were after, the CCP learned how long that would take.
These concerns are not esoteric subjects about which Americans shouldn’t bother their little heads. “Another question is when the Administration first spotted the balloon crossing into US airspace. Sensors should be able to detect an air intruder, even one flying quietly at 60,000 feet, and if they failed to do so the public should know about this hole in our defenses,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board asserted. Does the United States even have the capability to identify airborne threats entering our air space? “It’s fair to wonder if the Administration hoped the balloon would cross the US into the Atlantic without public notice,” the WSJ editors wondered.
American Public Deserves Answers
Two questions that need to be answered: Is the National Command Authority unable to make crucial security decisions quickly? Is the North Warning System (NWS), which replaced the Eisenhower-era Distant Early Warning system (DEW Line), spread across the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic, capable of protecting North America from a missile or bomber or, in this case, balloon attack? The NWS, completed in 1992, used “1970s technology. It was designed to detect air bombers from the Soviet Union traveling in a north-south direction,” a War on the Rocks commentary explained. Apparently, the protection does not include air-riding balloons from China.
The public should know if America is facing a dangerous strategic gap in its homeland defenses. And the Defense Department would be wise to explain how it will bridge the gap as soon as possible.
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