The days leading up to the dramatic shootdown over the ocean off the East Coast on Saturday are listed here.
The Defense Department tells President Joe Biden, and he asks what the military can do to shoot it down.
The plan to shoot down the balloon over Wilmington, North Carolina, on Saturday is explained to Biden on Friday night.
The military begins its efforts to find the balloon, which dropped six nautical miles offshore and is now thought to be in water that is 47 feet deep.
Later on Saturday, China released a statement that condemned the shooting as an infraction of international norms and promised to take action.
The days leading up to the dramatic shootdown over the ocean off the East Coast on Saturday are listed here. The information below is based on interviews with three high-level U.S. officials, who asked not to be named because the subject was so sensitive.
Sunday, January 30:
The balloon is initially spotted high over Alaska, north of the Aleutian Islands, in U.S. airspace. The military’s North American Aerospace Defense Command keeps an eye on the balloon and has decided that it doesn’t pose any danger or risk to intelligence.
30 January, Monday:
As the balloon enters Canadian airspace, NORAD monitors its progress. Officials think it is used to spy on people because it has a collection pod and solar panels on the metal truss that hangs below the balloon. Officials think that because it has small engines and propellers, it can be controlled to fly over certain places.
The balloon is part of a Chinese spy fleet that has been seen over countries on five continents, including Asia and Europe, in the past few years. Three times during the Trump administration and once earlier, at the start of the Biden administration, balloons were spotted over the United States. The prolonged time spent across the continent set this new meeting apart.
Monday, January 30:
Over northern Idaho, the balloon re-enters U.S. airspace. The Defense Department tells President Joe Biden, and he asks what the military can do to shoot it down.
The Pentagon begins to do everything possible to prevent the balloon from obtaining private information from locations on the ground. A high-level government official said this was “straightforward” because “we could track the exact path of the balloon and make sure that no important activities or unencrypted communications would be done in its area.”
Tuesday, January 31:
As the balloon flies over Montana, Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of the three places where the country’s silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles are run and maintained, worries Pentagon officials.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meets with top military and civilian leaders, like Gen. Glen VanHerck of the United States Northern Command and Gen. Mark Milley of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to examine the situation.
All flights at Billings Logan International Airport have been stopped for almost two hours while people decide what to do. If it is determined to shoot it down, the military launches F-22 fighter jets.
In the end, Milley and VanHerck say it’s not a good idea to shoot down the balloon over land because the pieces could hurt people. Defense officials think that pieces of the balloon the size of three buses could fall within a seven-mile radius.
So that the cargo can be retrieved, and as soon as it is safe to do so over U.S. waters, the president tells the Pentagon to come up with other ways to shoot down the balloon. Additionally, he instructs the military and intelligence agencies to keep an eye on the balloon so they can learn more about its capabilities. NASA started to look at and evaluate the possible debris field based on the balloon’s path, the weather, and what the airship was expected to carry.
In the meantime, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman meet with Chinese embassy officials.
Tuesday, February 1:
A statement from the Pentagon says that a Chinese surveillance balloon flying high above the ground has flown into American airspace. lawmakers request briefings and start berating Biden for not opposing them. There have been reports of seeing a second balloon soaring across Central and South America.
The military is still exploring options for safely bringing the balloon down. Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, keeps him informed frequently.
Blinken decides to put off his trip to China, and the top leaders of the administration agree.
Feb. 3rd, Friday
In a statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry says that the balloon is Chinese, but it insists that it is a civilian airship used to collect weather data. China apologizes for mistakenly entering American airspace. Officials from the United States disagree, saying that it is clear that the balloon is being used for spying and that the breach of American sovereignty is a clear violation of American power.
The plan to shoot down the balloon over Wilmington, North Carolina, on Saturday is explained to Biden on Friday night. This includes the planes that will be used, the naval ships that will be used to retrieve it, and the initial intelligence assessment of the balloon’s capabilities. Biden endorses the strategy.
The National Security Council and the Pentagon labor all night to ensure all the conditions are suitable for the plan to work.
Sunday, February 6:
Biden discusses the mission with Austin and Sullivan several times in the morning. Later, when asked about the balloon during a trip to Syracuse, New York, Biden assures that “we’re going to take care of it.” As he boards Air Force One at the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in New York, he gives reporters the thumbs up when they ask if the military will shoot it down.
The FAA has stopped flights at airports in Wilmington, South Carolina; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Charleston, South Carolina. This lets the military planes take off and get into position, including tanker planes from different places, an F-22 stealth fighter from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, and F-15s from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts.
A single AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile fired by an F-22 jet at 58,000 feet at 2:39 p.m. downed a balloon flying between 60,000 and 65,000 feet in the air. The military begins its efforts to find the balloon, which dropped six nautical miles offshore and is now thought to be in water that is 47 feet deep. The cruiser Philippine Sea, the destroyer USS Oscar Austin, and the amphibious ship USS Carter Hall are all in the area to help clean up. Navy divers are prepared to descend to the location if necessary.
The intelligence community will start working to study the balloon further as soon as it is found and recovered.
A senior DoD official said, “It’s given us a few days to evaluate this balloon [and] learn a lot about what this balloon was doing, how it was doing it, and why the PRC could be employing balloons like this.” “We now have more technical information regarding this balloon’s surveillance capabilities.” And I believe we will discover even more if we rescue some of the debris successfully.
Later on Saturday, China said in a statement that the shooting was against international rules and that it would take action. The mission is discussed directly between Washington and Beijing. The State Department briefs worldwide partners and allies.
“The Americans were never in any danger from the balloon, either physically or militarily.” But their repeated violations of our right to control our airspace were too much, said the top DoD officer.