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China’s spy balloon has been grabbing public attention since its appearance in U.S. skies in February of 2023 when the Pentagon announced it was tracking it. Since then, the U.S. army reported shooting down a handful of Chinese balloons and other high-altitude objects, and military officials confirmed that the balloon was able to gather some intelligence regarding sensitive military sites.

Since the occurrence the military has been receiving public attention and many questions, demanding how come it wasn’t detected earlier. Despite this attention, a top military defense official is calling China’s use of the balloons a “distraction”, and inconsequential compared to their potential abilities to militarize space.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall spoke at a briefing to the Defense Writers Group in Washington, stating “They have a very aggressive intelligence collection program. The balloons are a very small part of that and not highly consequential,” and added that what worries him more is “higher up”. He worriedly stated that “They’re linking their space-based capabilities to their operational forces.”

According to VOA news, this concern regarding China’s advancements in space is shared by many U.S. officials and experts. Doug Wade, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s China Mission Group, stated that China sees space as a potential vulnerability for the United States. “There’s a variety of space and counter-space assets or capabilities in China that worry us a lot,” Wade said, calling Beijing’s space program, “second only to the United States.” Specific concerns are China’s ability to potentially track troops’ location via satellites, target aircraft carriers or mobile units.

Despite pleas from officials in the U.S. military to lawmakers to focus funds and energy on China’s growing space capabilities, some lawmakers were more concerned with targeting the problem of high-altitude spying balloons. Kendall called on lawmakers to pass a defense budget that would support modernization efforts, including reforms that would allow for better response to China’s advancements.