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A photo of the Chinese balloon taken from the U-2 spy plane PA Images via The Pentagon
The Pentagon

US releases photo of Chinese balloon taken from U-2 spy plane

The picture was taken a day before the massive balloon was shot down.

A U-2 PILOT flying high above a Chinese balloon took a close-up photo of the large white orb just a day before the Air Force shot it down off the South Carolina coast.

The photo shows the top of the pilot’s helmet inside the U-2 cockpit with the balloon flying below.

It was taken on 3 February as the balloon “hovered over the Central Continental United States”, according to the caption provided by the Defence Department.

The Pentagon released the image on Wednesday, more than two weeks after the balloon made international headlines as it transited the United States.

The balloon was downed on 4 February by an F-22 fighter jet firing an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile. The strike took place once the balloon was no longer over land but was still within US territorial waters.

The U-2 Dragon Lady is a high-altitude US spy plane that has been in service since the 1950s.

The Pentagon announced last Friday that Navy ships and submersibles had completed recovery of the massive balloon and its payload, which fell in pieces into the Atlantic Ocean.

The payload was recovered from the ocean floor and is being analysed by the FBI, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said yesterday.

The shootdown led to three other smaller objects also being shot down by Air Force jets within a period of eight days: one over Alaska, one over Canada and one over Lake Huron. Searches for the Alaska and Lake Huron objects have ended.

Pentagon press briefing

During a press briefing yesterday, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh answered a number of questions about the balloon.

Tony Bertuca, a reporter from Inside Defense, said: “There seems to be a gap between sort of low-tech systems, like the balloons and these objects, and the very exquisite, very expensive, very manned systems that we’re using to take them down.

“Is the Pentagon wrestling with this gap at all? Is there a different way to get at this security problem? Do we always have to fire a Sidewinder? Do we have to look with the U-2? It seems like there’s a big space in between a balloon and what we send to go look at it.”

In response, Singh said: “Well, I think that, again, this was the balloon – a Chinese spy balloon that we didn’t know its capabilities, we didn’t exactly know what could happen if we – and did shoot it down.

“So it was the assessment of the NORTHCOM Commander, the recommendation of the Secretary and the Chairman to take it down with a Sidewinder missile.”

When asked if the Pentagon is looking into how to best respond to such incidents in the future if there is a chance the object could be a commercial object.

Singh noted that the White House last week announced the establishment of an interagency task force that will look at different incidents and “how to better assess what actions should be taken”.

“That’s what we’re trying to do for the future, we’re trying to improve not only how we respond to certain incidents, but to ensure that there are no – there’s no civilian casualties or damage or anything like that,” she said.

Contains reporting by Órla Ryan

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