China’s “spy balloons” continue to cause a stir. What can these balloons do – and will they soon be hovering over Germany?
The most important things at a glance
What is known about the balloons? And should Germany also expect to see such a balloon soon? t-online answers the most important questions.
What is known about the technology of the balloon?
At first glance, the balloon shot down by the USA resembles a weather balloon. It was white and filled with helium. At the bottom were solar panels, apparently for power.
According to experts, the wingspan of the wing-like solar panels is roughly the length of three coaches. The suspected spy balloons usually fly at altitudes of between 24 and 37 kilometers – well above the trajectories of passenger planes. These are usually at an altitude of ten to twelve kilometers.
At the time of launch over the Atlantic, however, the first balloon was hovering at an altitude of around 18 kilometers. Here is a video of the shooting down. William Kim, an expert on surveillance balloons at the Marathon Initiative think tank in Washington, attributes the low altitude to a possible technical defect in the balloon.
Many technical details are still unclear
The technical components at the lower end of the balloon caused a stir. These, experts and military personnel suspect, indicate that China wanted to spy on the US with the balloon. They may have been used for maneuvering and intelligence gathering.
The Washington Post, citing Pentagon officials, reported that the balloon could have tested US radar, for example, which could be valuable in the event of a future conflict.
But until the information box is recovered, this remains speculation. So far, only suspected debris has been found, which you can see in the video here. Meanwhile, the US military estimates the actual danger posed by such a balloon to be low. The missile is of limited value in this regard, a US government official said.
This is also why China is probably speaking of an overreaction by the USA with regard to the shooting down. “He posed no threat to any person or to US national security,” State Department spokeswoman Mao Ning told the press in Beijing on Tuesday.
Do balloons like this also hover over Germany?
According to current knowledge, no “spy balloons” are currently flying over Germany. It is still being checked whether there have been similar incidents in the past, according to German security circles.
A Pentagon official has pointed out that China has a fleet of surveillance balloons. They have previously been sighted across five continents, including regions in East Asia, South Asia and Europe. In addition, according to statements by the US Department of Defense, three Chinese spy balloons crossed American airspace during the tenure of former US President Donald Trump – without consequences. Here you can read more about it.
The federal government has therefore also shown itself alarmed about the incident in the USA. “The federal government takes Chinese espionage and the current reports very seriously and coordinates with its most important partners,” said security circles, quoted by the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. “Based on the knowledge available so far, assessments for Germany would be premature.” Read the full article on the government’s response here.
Why doesn’t China use satellites for spying?
As an observation platform, balloons have some advantages over satellites. Experts said they could see more detail and movement over a longer period of time from closer up.