UVU expert weighs in on spy balloon, intelligence gathering

Feb 9, 2023, 9:30 PM | Updated: Feb 10, 2023, 7:37 am

A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. The huge, high-alt...

A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. The huge, high-altitude Chinese balloon sailed across the U.S. on Friday, drawing severe Pentagon accusations of spying and sending excited or alarmed Americans outside with binoculars. Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly canceled a high-stakes Beijing trip aimed at easing U..S.-China tensions. A Utah expert joined Dave and Dujanovic on Thursday to discuss the relationship with China and what were the mystery objects shot down over the weekend. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

(Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. officials have disclosed additional information about the Chinese spy balloon that flew over the country last week before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina.

CNN reports this is part of a larger Chinese spying operation. 

Justin Finch, an ABC news correspondent, who has been following the hearings on the matter in Washington, D.C. joined Dave & Dujanovic with hosts Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic to discuss the latest on the situation.

Why was the spy balloon not taken out over Alaska?

“The question was asked why was this not knocked out over Alaska,” Finch said. “We heard from those testifying from the Joint Chiefs and the Pentagon saying, it was at that time, that the risk may have been too high in that moment to knock it out.”

He says Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) found that to be unacceptable, and she said a big opportunity was missed.

Finch says more about the balloon is being understood as more of its wreckage is being recovered. He says its antenna was able to gather communications on the ground.

e says U.S. leaders have knowledge of these balloons flying over the country in recent years. However, there was no clarity on what they were or what their potential was.

Area expert weighs in

Andy Pierucci, an adjunct professor at the Center for National Security Studies at Utah Valley University also joined Dave and Dujanovic to weigh in on the situation.

Dujanovic says because of this incident, the U.S. may have a domain awareness gap. 

She asks Pierucci, “What do you make of that domain awareness gap?”

He says what this balloon has highlighted for the country is a gray space between 320,000 feet. But above what most aircrafts will fly at.

“So, the majority of this balloon’s flight took place in the 60,000 to 70,000-foot range,” Pierucci said.

To put that in perspective, Pierucci says commercial airlines typically fly at 35,000 feet. A predator drone operates at 25,000 feet, and the B-52 bombers fly around 50,000 feet.

Pierucci says the only aircraft that the air force publicly acknowledges that is in our fleet that can operate at that level is the U-2 High-Altitude Reconnaissance Aircraft.

Possible intelligence gathered on balloon

He says two such planes were monitoring the balloon as it flew over the country. 

“The way the U-2 is configured, it can do multiple types of intelligence simultaneously,” Pierucci said. 

He says the U-2 plane can take high resolution imagery, even at night. He says the plane captured images of the balloon’s antenna.

“And so from an intelligence collection perspective this was a huge opportunity for the U.S. Government to be able to really understand what these balloons are capable of,” he said. 

Noriega asked if the U-2 has attack capabilities.

“It’s an intelligence gathering platform first and foremost,” Pierucci said. 

Noriega asked if the country has anything that can take down something at that height.

“We have a wide variety of capabilities to be able to take something out at that height,” Pierucci said. 


Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.  

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UVU expert weighs in on spy balloon, intelligence gathering