Since it was spotted by bystanders over the United States, the Chinese spy balloon has captured headlines and social media across the nation. First spotted on January 28, 2023, near the Aleutian Islands, the balloon transited over Alaska and Canada before floating over the continental United States over Idaho. It continued on a southeasterly path until it drifted over U.S. territorial waters off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where it was shot down by an F-22 Raptor stealth fighter on February 4.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III issued a written statement confirming the balloon's destruction. "The balloon, which was being used by the PRC in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States, was brought down above U.S. territorial waters," he said. Action was reportedly ordered on February 1, but delayed until the balloon was over the water and could be brought down with no risk to Americans on the ground below.
The balloon intercept was conducted by an F-22 from the 1st Fighter Wing based at Langley Air Force Base. The Raptor fired a single AIM-9X Sidewinder missile from an altitude of 58,000 feet. At the time, the balloon was at an altitude of 62,000 feet. After the sidewinder struck, the balloon and its surveillance equipment fell approximately six miles off the coast in about 47 feet of water. The DoD reports that no one was hurt.
In support of the shootdown, the U.S. Navy deployed the USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79), USS Philippine Sea (CG-58) and USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) to recover the wreckage of the balloon. Its remains were scattered in a seven-mile debris field, a senior military official told reporters. The same official also confirmed that the FBI was on board in support of the recovery and counterintelligence efforts.
Notably, the balloon shootdown is the first engagement and destruction of an enemy aircraft by the F-22. Although the Air Force has not confirmed if the shootdown will count as a kill, there is precedent for it. A shootdown of an unmanned drone has counted as a kill in the 21st century and shooting down balloons counted for kills during WWI.