Pentagon releases U-2 photo of Chinese spy balloon in flight before it was shot down

The Department of Defense has released of a photo of the Chinese spy balloon that was shot down earlier this month off the coast of South Carolina after it had traversed the country. 

The photo, obtained by Fox News Digital, was taken Feb. 3 by one of the U-2 pilots. It shows a U.S. Air Force pilot looking down at the suspect Chinese surveillance balloon as it hovered over the central continental U.S. 

The following day, an F-22 fighter jet fired a single A9X missile to bring down the balloon at 58,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. 

The shootdown triggered three subsequent shootdowns of unidentified objects and forced the U.S. military to reevaluate its guidelines for monitoring and reacting to unknown aerial objects. 

U.S. officials later admitted that the three later objects shot down likely had a ‘benign purpose’ and were detected after the U.S. military set its radar system to detect slow-moving balloons. 

The missile attacks were the first known peacetime shootdowns of unauthorized objects in U.S. airspace. 

The downing of the Chinese spy balloon has also ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Beijing, which accused the former’s handling of the situation as ‘hysterical’ and ‘absurd.’ 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a trip to a trip to Beijing over the incident. Over the weekend, Blinken met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on the sidelines of an international security conference in Munich. 

Per the State Department, Blinken ‘made clear the United States will not stand for any violation of our sovereignty, and that the PRC’s high-altitude surveillance balloon program — which has intruded into the airspace of over 40 countries across 5 continents — has been exposed to the world.’

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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