You wait decades for the military to start downing unidentified flying objects (UFOs) then suddenly they're dropping out of the sky like month-old birthday balloons.
The US has downed a fourth flying object this week, taking care to not rule out the possibility of aliens before taking a more sensible approach and denying it was aliens. With all the commotion and speculation (could it be spy balloons?) you may have missed that the objects are not just hovering above the US and Canada. The government of China – who have been blamed for the potential surveillance tools, pretty definitively for the first object, which they say was a weather balloon – claims that they have been dealing with their own UFO.
According to Chinese state-affiliated news outlet Global Times, authorities in East China's Shandong Province have reported an unidentified object near the coastal city of Rizhao. The outlet claims that the authorities were preparing to shoot it out of the sky on Sunday, warning fishing vessels in the area to stay safe.
It is of course possible (perhaps likely) that this is a minor deflection by China after four objects – speculated to be Chinese spy balloons – were found over the US. Or it could be some other innocuous weather balloon, or it could be that China, like the US, has focused a little more attention on smaller objects caught on radar than usual following the discovery of the first balloon in the US.
China is not the only state that uses balloons for surveillance purposes. China has been spotted flying military balloons over Taiwan over the last few years, but the US also has its own balloon projects and was reported in May 2022 to be creating inflatables that could fly between 18.2 and 27.4 kilometers (60,000 and 90,000 feet). According to the International Security Program and Missile Defense Project director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, these balloons could even deliver several payloads.
Balloons, though primitive compared to satellites, are advantageous in that you can launch them silently, director of the RAF Centre for Air and Space Power Studies Dr David Jordan told The Guardian. Satellites are also tracked by whoever you are attempting to spy on, meaning that you can do any activity you like outside of times you know it will be overhead, or even dazzle them with lasers.
There are, of course, obvious disadvantages too.
"They go where the winds take them,” Jordan told The Guardian. “I’m surprised the Chinese would resort to it ... Why not just send a guy in a campervan to drive around?”