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US military unsure if missile that shot down Chinese spy balloon would work when F-22 fired, commander says

U.S. Marines load an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile onto an F/A-18D Hornet at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan in September.U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Gabriel Durand

  • An F-22 shot down a Chinese spy balloon with a single AIM-9X Sidewinder missile on Saturday.

  • But the Pentagon wasn’t sure the missile would work when the pilot fired it, a senior commander said.

  • The balloon debris plummeted more than 60,000 feet into the waters off South Carolina.

A US Air Force F-22 fighter jet fired a single air-to-air missile at a Chinese surveillance balloon over the weekend, sending the system crashing into the Atlantic Ocean in a tense moment increased between Washington and Beijing.

But before the pilot fired on Saturday, the US military was unsure whether the missile would actually work for this specific operation, a senior US commander said Monday.

The F-22, which was operating at an altitude of 58,000 feet, used an AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile to bring down the balloon, which was hovering between 60,000 and 65,000 feet, a senior US defense official said. to journalists after the mission.

General Glen VanHerck, commander of NORAD and US Northern Command, told reporters on Monday that he was not sure the Air Force had ever tested an AIM-9 against a balloon target at such a high altitude.

U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 carry an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, Japan, Sept. 28, 2022.

US Marines transport an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile to Iwakuni in Japan in September.U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Chloe Johnson

“I’m not aware of any high-altitude balloon engagement like this. We didn’t have the weapons data,” he said.

VanHerck was asked in a follow-up question why the United States decided to use the short-range AIM-9 missile instead of the advanced medium-range AIM-120 – a beyond-visual-range missile that can work in all weather conditions.

VanHerck said the AIM-120 has a “significantly” longer range and a bigger warhead, which makes it less safe than the AIM-9. “We assessed from an efficiency standpoint that it was going to be very efficient, and that was proven on Saturday,” VanHerck said of the AIM-9.

Air Force weapons evaluators could not immediately respond to Insider’s inquiry into the matter.

A balloon flies in the sky over Billings, Montana on Feb. 1, 2022.

The Chinese balloon over Billings, Montana on February 1.Chase Doak/via REUTERS

The AIM-9 Sidewinder is a supersonic heat-seeking missile, first developed by the US Navy in the 1950s and adopted by the US Air Force years later. It is powered by a rocket engine, carries a high-explosive warhead, and uses infrared guidance to steer towards an aircraft’s engine exhaust.

The AIM-120, meanwhile, is a “next generation” missile that succeeded the AIM-7 Sparrow, according to the Air Force. At nearly 12 feet long, it is significantly longer than the AIM-9 and has a heavier launch weight of 335 pounds compared to the AIM-9’s 190 pounds.

The Chinese spy balloon was shot down by the latest AIM-9 variant, the AIM-9X, which has smaller fins than previous versions. Not only was this apparently the AIM-9’s first high-altitude balloon target, but it was also the first air-to-air kill by the stealthy fifth-generation F-22 Raptor, which used the callsign “FRANK” in a nod to a legendary aviator who shot down over a dozen German military balloons during World War I.

The balloon debris fell in waters about 47 feet deep off the coast of South Carolina, a senior US military official said on Saturday. VanHerck said Monday that U.S. forces have begun the process of recovering the debris, which fell in an area as large as “15 football fields by 15 football fields.” The Navy released the first photos of the balloon recovery operation on Tuesday.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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