Pentagon’s own admission on Feb. 6 of an “awareness gap” regarding previous Chinese balloon incursions in U.S. airspace has drawn concerns from Republican lawmakers.
“If the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] have been exploiting a radar gap for so many years, Congress deserves answers on this vulnerability to our greatest adversary can be addressed,” said Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), who sits on the Armed Services and Intelligence committees, in a statement to The Epoch Times on Monday.
U.S. Air Force General Glen VanHerck, the commander for North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command, told reporters on Feb. 6 that Chinese spy balloons went undetected at least three times during the Trump administration.
“I will tell you that we did not detect those threats, and that’s a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out,” VanHerck said.
Also on Monday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that after President Joe Biden took office, the United States “enhanced our surveillance of our territorial airspace, we enhanced our capacity to be able to detect things that the Trump administration was unable to detect.”
Given the surveillance improvements, Sullivan said that “we were able to go back and look at the historical patterns” and uncover “multiple instances” during the Trump administration in which Chinese surveillance balloons traversed American airspace and territory.”
China’s aggression against the United States is now drawing bipartisan scrutiny, after a Chinese spy balloon flew over Idaho, Montana, and several Midwest states, before being shot down by a U.S. fighter jet near the South Carolina coast on Saturday. According to the Pentagon, the balloon entered the U.S. air defense zone north of the Aleutian Islands on Jan. 28 and flew over Alaska and Canada, before reentering U.S. airspace over Idaho on Jan. 31.
The balloon was up to 200 feet tall and weighed a few thousand pounds, VanHerk said.
On Sunday, Waltz revealed on Twitter that his home state was the target of a Chinese balloon in recent years.
“The Office of the Secretary of Defense has informed my office that several Chinese balloon incidents have happened in the past few years—including over Florida,” Waltz wrote. “Why weren’t they shot down?
“And according to several Trump Admin national security officials—they were never informed of these intrusions by the Pentagon,” he added.
Over the weekend, former President Donald Trump and his former officials—former secretary of defense Mark Esper, former U.S. national security advisor John Bolton, and former White House national security advisor Robert O’Brien—have said they were never briefed on Chinese balloons entering U.S. airspace.
On Monday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) called for a congressional probe into why Trump wasn’t apparently informed about the incursion of U.S. airspace by Chinese spy balloons when he was in office.
‘National Security Threat’
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Biden administration reacted too slowly.
“The administration should have taken care of this before it became a national security threat,” McCaul said in a statement to The Epoch Times on Monday. “I hope we will be able to recover the wreckage to help determine what intelligence the CCP collected while its spy balloon was over our country for days.”
McCaul previously said the balloon “could have easily been shot down over water” near the Aleutian Islands.
Several other GOP lawmakers have criticized Biden for failing to act swiftly, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“It defies belief to suggest there was nowhere between the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and the coast of Carolina where this balloon could have been shot down right away without endangering Americans or Canadians,” McConnell said in a statement on Sunday.
However, some Democrats have defended Biden from GOP criticism, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“Republican critics were breathless, political, and premature. President Biden and his team were calm, calculating, and effective,” Schumer said on Sunday.
VanHerck also told reporters on Monday that the U.S. military began collecting the debris of the shot-down balloon at around 10 a.m. local time on Monday, as rough seas prevented safe debris collection a day earlier.
The Air Force General added that the size of the debris field is estimated to be 1,500 meters (4,920 feet) by 1,500 meters, or about “more than 15 football fields by 15 football fields.”
The USS Carter Hall, an amphibious dock landing ship, was collecting debris “in the vicinity of the splashdown,” VanHerck said. Additionally, the USNS Pathfinder, an oceanographic survey ship, was mapping the ocean floor for debris, he added.