Discussed shooting down of Chinese spy balloon with India, says U.S. General

In a first, two B-1 long range bombers to take part in air exercise Cope India

Updated - April 11, 2023 08:09 am IST

Published - April 10, 2023 09:56 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari during a meeting with U.S. Pacific Air Forces Commander General Kenneth Wilsbach, in New Delhi, on April 10, 2023.

Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari during a meeting with U.S. Pacific Air Forces Commander General Kenneth Wilsbach, in New Delhi, on April 10, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

The U.S. has discussed the shooting down of the Chinese spy balloon with India and the challenges involved in its taking down, according to General Kenneth S. Wilsbach, Commander, U.S. Pacific Air Forces (COMPACAF). He also said that for the first time ever, two B-1 long range bombers of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) will join the bilateral air exercise Cope India which got underway on April 10, 2023.

“We had [a] very brief conversation with most of the Air Chiefs in the region on some of the situation that occurred with us, the airship that crossed Alaska, Canada, and the U.S. and how we went about dealing with it,” Gen Wilsbach said on the balloon incident in an interaction with a small group of journalists. This conversation was a few weeks after the incident and we haven’t shared a lot, he stated.

In February, a USAF F-22 shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina that traversed across North America for several days. There were at least two other instances within a week after that. Over India, there has been at least one incident of a balloon sighting over the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Without getting into the specific details, the General said he shared information with the air chiefs who asked how they did it and what considerations they had when shooting down an airship that was very high and slow moving, that presents some tactical challenges.

One thing that should concern anyone that value a free and open Indo-Pacific and any where else in the world is the sovereignty of air space, said the visiting General and stressed that every country gets to decide who flies in their sovereign airspace. “Any country that violates the sovereignty of another country’s air space and who is not abiding by international norms should cause concern for us.

Air exercise

On Cope India, Gen. Wilsbach noted that this was the first time that U.S. bombers were here specifically for an exercise. B1s had earlier done flyby during Aero India on two occasions.

“We have an opportunity not only to show the aircraft (B1) in public, the crew have an opportunity to train with one another and incorporate the bombers into the scenarios so that everybody on all sides has a chance to see how they operate and we can improve our tactics, techniques and procedures,” he stated.

In all, the USAF is deploying four to six F-15 fighters, one C-17 and two C-130s for the exercise in which Japan is taking part as an observer. Bombers are unique platforms and they have extremely long range and significant payload, he noted, adding, “Message is one of interoperability and the two Air Forces working together.”

In a statement, the Indian Air Force (IAF) said that Cope India was being held at the air bases in Panagarh, Kalaikunda, and Agra with a focus on “air mobility” and will involve transport aircraft and Special Forces assets from both the Air Forces. The exercise also includes the presence of the Japanese Air Self Defence Force aircrew, who will participate in the capacity of observers, the statement added.

To a question on the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAF) and Navy (PLAN), Gen. Wilsbach said that over the past 15 to 20 years, the PLAF and the PLAN have had significant “advancements and modernisation” of their force. “They have also become a very learning organisation and so they have taken a look at their challenges and threat and made themselves better over time,” he added.

Also Read | Explained: Chinese balloon | Many questions about suspected spy in U.S. sky

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