Earlier this year, the United States shot down a Chinese spy balloon in the stratosphere, triggering a new phase of tensions between the two countries. Realizing that stratospheric balloons have become powerful tools for surveillance and observation, the United States is now trying to develop a capability to capture rather than destroy. DARPA is starting a project in this direction, although it seems complicated due to the heights involved.
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Earlier this year, on February 5, the United States shot down a stratospheric Chinese spy balloon that was flying over strategic military sites. A few days later, the U.S. AirAir The Force shot down three other objects classified as UFOs, ie objects whose nature could not be identified. Among them was a flying octagon of several tens of square meters!
If several spy balloons attributed to China were already detected, monitored and analyzed for their technical capabilities, this is the first time that one of these balloons has been shot down. By deciding to shoot down all foreign objects that violate its airspace, the United States sent a strong signal to Beijing, which has a program of spy balloons at high altitudes between 20 and 100 kilometers. This program, which allows for the use of different and complementary means of surveillance from satellites, has been used to violate the sovereignty of the United States and more than 40 countries across five continents.
catch instead of kill
Today, we learn that the United States wants to gain the ability to capture these balloons in flight without much damage, to allow American analysts to inspect their intact intelligence-gathering payloads and their stratospheric navigation technology. So to receive.
US Defense Advanced Projects Agency DARPA has just launched the project Capturing aerial payloads to uncover trusted exploits (capture) To find a way to safely descend from balloons at altitudes up to 75,000 feet. What does this project focus on Ability to shoot down systems at high altitudes at a time and place of our choosing to minimize collateral damage, maximize the utility of recovered payloads, and minimize response costs ,” explains Kyle Woerner, DARPA’s program director. The US agency, looking for ideas, launched a call for tenders to find a technical solution capable of developing at the height of the stratosphere, taking control of a balloon or any other potentially uncooperative flying object, and doing so. method that allows controlled descent to recovery near populated areas or currently avoided recovery areas.
The system should also be able to be implemented quickly, within hours of being committed against a decision. whether or not the aerial vehicle of interest has been identified Adjacent to or within the sovereign airspace of the United States. Technically, this requirement means that the system must be able to adapt to respond to any intrusion over a wide area from Guam to Puerto Rico and the northern tip of Alaska to American Samoa.
Which system to capture spy balloons?
Ultimately, the capture method itself is another challenge. In the past, the US military has demonstrated Lockheed Martin C-130 Captured in full flight film canisters dropped by satellites To revolve aroundTo revolve aroundand that two Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawks Were capable of self-refueling in the air at high altitude. However, in both cases the objects were either cooperative or non-cooperative, and were tens of thousands of feet below the operational altitude of the Chinese spy balloons. Luis Pacheco, Editor-in-Chief Stratocatwho closely follows high-altitude balloon technology aptly states: I don’t see how high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft can accomplish this task, despite all this complexity. according to him, The balloon must first be brought down to a low altitude in a non-destructive manner, where conventional aircraft (such as a C-130) can be used to recover the remains or the inflated balloon. Another method could be to use some sort of “harpoon” or similar device that would pop the balloon as well as attach the bag to a large parachute to slow the descent.
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