The US military released the first official images of its Chinese spy balloon recovery efforts on Tuesday, as sailors continued to scour the South Carolina coast for debris from the downed craft.
After the surveillance device was shot down on Saturday, Navy personnel were seen hauling large sections of the high-altitude balloon — which US officials say measured 200 feet tall — from the waters off Myrtle Beach.
A half-dozen sailors could be seen dragging pieces of the balloon’s white material envelope and sections of metal onto a vessel in one image.
Military officials have not yet determined the condition of the device — or how many pieces it may contain — and unmanned underwater vehicles are now being used to track and retrieve the debris.
Air Force General Glen VanHerck, commander of the United States North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Northern Command (NORCOM), said Monday that the Navy was taking precautions during the recovery in case the balloon contained explosives.
VanHerck also stated that the debris was spread out over an area larger than “15 football fields by 15 football fields square.”
The shattered craft’s fragments are being taken to the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, to be examined by the bureau and other counter-intelligence authorities.
Despite the Biden administration’s dismissal of the device’s impact on national security, US officials have said the successful recovery could provide valuable insight into China’s spying capabilities.
“We need to understand more fully the Chinese surveillance capabilities and systems,” retired Navy Adm. Harry Harris, the former US Indo-Pacific Command commander, said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday.
“Shooting down that [balloon] and then recovering the parts over the Atlantic ,I think, is very helpful in that regard.”
Sullivan defended Biden’s decision to wait until the balloon was off the coast of South Carolina before shooting it down, saying military advisers determined that shooting it down over water “created a greater possibility that we could effectively exploit the wreckage than if it was shot down over land.”