Congress floats ways to secure skies after Chinese balloon
WASHINGTON >> As the only current U.S. senator to have visited space, Mark Kelly knows something about unexplained objects in the skies.
Back in his aviator days, Kelly saw Mylar party balloons fly by his cockpit. And once when he was piloting a NASA aircraft, he spotted an object at roughly 45,000 feet (13,700 meters) — much higher than commercial airplanes fly — that he couldn’t identify by sight.
He’s not sure he would want to see American missiles flying at those objects, either.
“I don’t think we want to get into the business of launching AIM-9Xs — at $400,000 a pop — at weather balloons,” Kelly told The Associated Press, referring to the heatseeking, air-to-air missiles used in recent weeks to shoot down a series of aerial objects, including a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon.
The Biden administration’s unprecedented peacetime downing of the Chinese balloon and three other objects has raised new and troubling questions about the security of American airspace, alarming lawmakers who fear the episode has exposed a vulnerability that could be exploited by other foreign adversaries.
While the House and the Senate both voted unanimously to condemn China’s ruling political party for the incursion and largely supported the Biden administration’s decision to shoot down the balloon, they have questions about what’s next.
Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat who has been tasked with heading up an investigation into how the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon was allowed to pass over crucial U.S. missile sites, said that he would ensure the Defense Department has funds for a protocol to assess the threat of unidentified flying objects.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of what happened and make sure we have a plan going forward to detect and then find out what potential problems this balloon may cause and then a way to bring it down that doesn’t cost us a $400,000 missile,” Tester, who chairs the Defense subcommittee on appropriations, told Fox News Channel.