China’s Balloon Bomb: This Was Just a Test Run

Written by Jason Simpkins
Posted February 10, 2023

Over the past 16 years I’ve covered a lot of spy scandals — especially those involving China. 

This one, for example, in which computers at dozens of major American companies including a major bank, government contractors, Apple, and Amazon were compromised with secret microchips planted by the Chinese army.

One time they stole Google’s source code. Another time they scored oodles of government secrets including weapons technology. 

But I’ve never seen anything like this balloon story. 

It’s just bonkers. 

And it’s hit people in a much different way than previous hacking scandals, which probably yielded more useful intelligence. 

There’s something really visceral about this particular effort.

The audacity of it, the brazenness, and the fact that it seems to have been somewhat successful.

After it was revealed that Chinese balloons had infiltrated U.S. air space on three previous instances during the Trump administration, it was further clarified that those violations weren’t caught in real time.

These incursions took place over Hawaii; Coronado, California; and Norfolk, Virginia, where our country’s largest naval bases are located.

And officials only learned about them after it was too late. 

Then, there’s the fact the military was gun-shy about shooting down this latest balloon.


Defense officials say the balloon didn’t pose a threat to the public and that the government “took immediate steps to protect against the balloon’s collection of sensitive information, mitigating its intelligence value.” 

Whatever that means.

Additionally, they were supposedly able to study the balloon and its equipment mid-flight.

And honestly, as private citizens, we can only take them at their word. 

But still, these explanations sound pretty suspect.

And they certainly don’t alleviate the sense that we, collectively as a country, feel violated. 

We feel antagonized, disrespected, even attacked.

It feels like China really does want war.

It’s another escalation in what’s become a long-standing feud another declaration that the international rules don’t apply.

And that declaration is further evidenced by the fact that it’s not just us.

China’s surveillance balloons have sailed over dozens of countries, from Europe to South Asia.

The earliest publicly reported sighting was over the northern Japanese city of Sendai in June 2020.

And in all of those journeys they collected huge volumes of data. 

That includes logistical data that can be used to enhance the accuracy of radar targeting systems, along with atmospheric data that can be used to develop hardware and software technology for missiles.

There’s even footage from China’s state-owned television network dating back to 2018 that shows a high-altitude balloon nearly identical to the one that traversed the United States dropping hypersonic weapons.

China Balloon Bomb

I’ve talked a lot about hypersonic missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) over the past year, so you’re probably familiar with them by now. 

But basically, they fly into low-earth orbit on a rocket that detaches, leaving a glide vehicle to coast back down onto a target via an unpredictable trajectory.

Such vehicles are faster than more traditional missiles when they’re in low orbit, but they also slow down when they hit the dense air of the atmosphere because they no longer have jets to power them. 

The three HGVs dropped by the balloon in the TV segment looked like they were testing that phenomenon in an effort to improve China’s hypersonic warheads.

This, the segment claimed, would give China an “unstoppable nuclear weapon.”

So the spy balloon that made its way over this past week may just have been a dry run or a fact-finding mission for a balloon-mounted hypersonic weapon that could one day be used to attack us...

Or the information these balloons gained could simply be used to get an even bigger edge over the United States in the realm of hypersonic weapons in general.

Either way, it’s bad news.

As I said, China is far ahead of the United States in the hypersonic weapons race. 

And we’re only now just starting to catch up, with a wave of funding at Congress’ direction. 

Some $4.7 billion was directed into more than 70 hypersonic military programs in FY23, up from $3.8 billion in FY22.

I even found a company that’s poised to profit from that spending spree, too.

You can find out more about that here.

It’s definitely worth learning about, because the threat China poses is greater than ever.

So don’t waste any time.

Fight on,

Jason Simpkins Signature

Jason Simpkins

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Jason Simpkins is Assistant Managing Editor of the Outsider Club and Investment Director of Wall Street's Proving Ground, a financial advisory focused on security companies and defense contractors. For more on Jason, check out his editor's page. 

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