pentagon A selfie taken in the cockpit of a U-2 spy plane has been released as an Air Force pilot flew over the prime suspect Sugar The surveillance balloon before it was shot down by the US military this month.
The selfie image, taken on February 3 by the pilot of U-2, shows the shadow of the aircraft on the balloon and a clear image of the balloon’s payload as it crossed over the continental United States.
The balloon, carrying a payload the size of three coach buses, was first sighted by the US military on 28 January and eventually shot down by a US Air Force fighter jet off the coast of South Carolina on 4 February after crossing the country Was.
The US Defense Department did not identify the U-2 pilot in the selfie, but Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh confirmed the authenticity of the image during a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday.
Addressing a media briefing, Singh said the search operation to recover sensors and other debris from the balloon that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean was completed last week.
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She said that “most of the balloon, including the payload, had been recovered.”
A senior State Department official said earlier this month that the fly-by “revealed that the high-altitude balloon was capable of conducting a signals intelligence collection operation.”
US officials said they decided not to shoot the balloon down over the country because of its size, fearing that falling debris could harm civilians or property on the ground. General Glenn VanHerk, commander of the US Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), later said that the balloon was 200 feet tall with a payload that weighed a few thousand pounds.
According to officials, the US sent U-2 spy planes to track the balloon’s progress.
The Chinese balloon is said to be hovering at an altitude of 60,000 feet in the air. According to the US Air Force, U-2 spy planes regularly fly above 70,000 feet.
The U-2 single-seater reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft had previously been flown by the CIA.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told a recent news briefing that the recovered material is now at the FBI laboratory in Quantico.
“It’s quite a bit — it’s a significant amount — that includes the payload structure, as well as some of the electronics and optics,” he said.
China has said the balloon was a weather vessel that was blown off course and criticized the use of force to bring it down as an “overreaction” and a violation of international norms.
But the US says the balloon was part of a vast Chinese intelligence gathering program on the US and its allies.
The fall of the Chinese balloon has escalated diplomatic and military tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
What was meant to be a high-profile trip to China by Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month has instead turned into a standoff, testing President Joe Biden’s resolve in a new moment of re-alignment with Beijing. did, which has rapidly flexed its muscles in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere.
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