U.S. President Joe Biden ordered the action on Wednesday, but it was postponed until the balloon was over water off the coast of South Carolina to ensure no civilian loss.Austin said, “The balloon, which was being used by the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) in an attempt to survey strategic sites in the continental United States, was brought down above U.S. territorial waters.”U.S. officials first detected the balloon and its payload on January 28 when they entered U.S. airspace near the Aleutian Islands. The balloon flew over Alaska, Canada, and back into U.S. airspace over Idaho.One AIM-9X Sidewinder missile was fired at the balloon by an F-22 Raptor fighter from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. The balloon landed about six miles off the coast in 47 feet of water. No one was injured.
The AIM-9X, compared to the previous Sidewinder generation, has a new airframe with smaller fins and canards. The new guidance unit is equipped with an advanced Imaging Infrared (IIR) seeker.Long before the shootdown, U.S. officials took precautions to prevent the balloon from collecting sensitive information, reducing its intelligence value to the Chinese. According to a senior defence official, the balloon’s recovery will allow U.S. analysts to examine sensitive Chinese equipment.While Chinese officials admitted ownership of the balloon, they claimed it was a runaway weather balloon.The military official described the engagement in some detail. From an altitude of 58,000 feet, the F-22 launched the Sidewinder at the balloon. The balloon was between 60,000 and 65,000 feet in altitude at the time.