The popping of China’s diplomatic trial balloon

Despite their benign and retro image, balloons have been used by militaries for centuries and continue to have a role. The current US-China row may yet spur another race in space.

An alleged Chinese giant spy balloon was brought down by a missile fired from an F-22 at the weekend. PHOTO: REUTERS
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When the F-22 all-weather advanced tactical fighter jet was first introduced in the United States Air Force about 15 years ago, Washington saw these “Raptors” as its first line of defence. The F-22s were deployed in Asia and the Middle East, but they had nothing to shoot down and quickly acquired the reputation of being the aircraft that got left behind in every US military operation.

Yet none of the people who either designed, manufactured or flew the F-22 could have ever imagined that, when their plane did finally see real action, its first air-to-air “kill” wouldn’t be against a top-notch opponent fighter jet but, rather, a balloon, based on technology first pioneered over two centuries ago, just when the US came into existence.

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