Inside China’s Military Balloon Program

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Years before a gigantic white spy balloon from China captured America’s attention, a top Chinese aerospace scientist was keenly tracking the path of an unmanned airship making its way across the globe.

On a real-time map, the white blimp appeared as a blinking red dot, although in real life its size was formidable, weighing several tons and measuring 328 feet (100 meters) in length—about 80 feet longer than a Boeing 747-8, one of the largest passenger aircraft in the world.

“Look, here’s America,” the vessel’s chief architect, Wu Zhe, told the state-run newspaper Nanfang Daily. He excitedly pointed to a red line marking the airship’s journey at about 65,000 feet in the air, noting that in 2019, that flight was setting a world record.

Named “Cloud Chaser,” the airship had been flying for just shy of a month over three oceans and three continents, including what appears to be Florida. At the time of Wu’s interview in August, the airship was hovering above the Pacific Ocean, days away from completing its mission.

Wu, a veteran aerospace researcher, has played a key role in advancing the Chinese regime in what it describes as the “near space” race, referring to the layer of the atmosphere sitting between 12 and 62 miles above the earth. This region, which is too high for jets but too low for satellites, had been deemed ripe for exploitation in the regime’s bid to achieve military dominance.

Despite having existed for decades, the regime’s military balloon program came into the spotlight recently when the United States shot down a high-altitude surveillance balloon that drifted across the country for a week and hovered above multiple sensitive U.S. military sites. That balloon, the size of three buses, was smaller than Cloud Chaser.

The U.S. and Canadian militaries have since taken down three flying objects over North American airspace, although President Joe Biden on Feb. 16 said those are likely linked to private companies.

By Eva Fu

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