National security specialists now speculate that the route taken by the spy balloon may have been part of a plan to locate American missile silos and other weapons more precisely.
Bryan Clark, director of the Hudson Institute Center for Defense Concepts, said that although the balloon may not have posed a direct threat, it might have given China access to close-up images from several perspectives.
“That could improve China’s ability to target U.S. missile silos and better understand the construction and layout of U.S. bomber bases in places like Montana and North Dakota where the balloon is flying. It could have obtained signals intelligence by listening in on U.S. military radio and radar signals. Because satellite flyovers are known and predictable, U.S. forces avoid transmitting sensitive signals during those windows, but the balloon can fly an unpredictable route and show up unexpectedly.”
Further suggestions about what China might have been up to when deploying the balloon’s equipment over American airspace were listed by Clark, who implied that the weather balloon might even have been a test.
According to Clark, the US air surveillance and response to less evident threats may be tested in this situation. In the high north, Russian bombers and observation planes frequently test US defenses, but unarmed, unmanned aircraft like this balloon pose a threat for which the US air force may not be well-prepared.
Victoria Coates, a senior research scholar at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, asserted that the threat posed by the balloon might be comparable to security threats made by China on the social media platform Tik Tok.
“Unfortunately, until the story blew up in the news they clearly prioritized keeping the trip over defending the national security of the United States, and even though it’s been delayed, Secretary Blinken said in his statement he expects it to be rescheduled and expressed his commitment to diplomacy.”