Today's D Brief: US shoots down Chinese balloon; GOP pressures WH on Ukraine; Is US foreign policy too militarized?; And a bit more.

The United States military finally shot down that large Chinese surveillance balloon Saturday afternoon, about six miles off the South Carolina coast and into waters about 50 feet deep. A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jet fired a single AIM-9X Sidewinder missile into the balloon when it was over the Atlantic Ocean in U.S. territorial waters. 

“This was the first available opportunity to successfully bring down this surveillance balloon in a way that would not pose a threat to the safety of Americans, which our military assessed to be the case when it was approximately six nautical miles off our coast,” a defense official said Saturday. About a half dozen U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels are involved in the recovery efforts, which could take a few days. U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, are set to be briefed on the episode on Feb. 15.

Rewind: The balloon first entered U.S. airspace on January 28 over Alaska. U.S. officials debated shooting it down at the time, but military officials at Northern Command decided to observe it for a little more time before pulling any triggers, according to the Wall Street Journal. “It then entered into Canadian airspace on January 30th, and re-entered U.S. airspace over northern Idaho on January 31st,” the defense official said.

President Joe Biden authorized the shootdown on Wednesday, but the Pentagon advised shooting it over land could be harmful to those down below. So defense officials opted to let it reach the ocean first, the president told reporters Saturday in Maryland. “They decided that the best time to do that was as it got over water,” he said. It was a decision made with “careful analysis,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement, citing “the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload.”

The Pentagon insists this was not a “weather balloon” blown away by unpredictable winds, as China’s foreign ministry claimed Friday. That explanation “is false,” a U.S. defense official said Saturday. “This was a [People’s Republic of China] surveillance balloon,” he said. “This surveillance balloon purposefully traversed the United States and Canada. And we are confident it was seeking to monitor sensitive military sites.”

White House officials on Friday claimed to have taken unspecified actions “to block China's ability to [learn] anything significant from the balloon,” according to Bloomberg. Indeed, “The surveillance balloon’s overflight of U.S. territory was of intelligence value to us,” a defense official said Saturday. “I can't go into more detail, but we were able to study and scrutinize a balloon and its equipment, which has been valuable.”

Also: There’s another Chinese surveillance balloon “transiting Central and South America,” the Pentagon official said. “Over the past several years, Chinese balloons have previously been spotted over countries across five continents, including in East Asia, South Asia, and Europe,” he added. 

Chinese spy balloons allegedly flew over the U.S. at least three times during the Trump administration, and at least once previously during the current administration, a senior U.S. defense official said. (The Washington Post reported prior instances included overflights of Texas, Florida, Hawaii, and Guam.) But the balloon shot down Saturday spent at least four days over the continental U.S., which was longer than the prior four known occurrences. One White House official said “much of the information on the [previous] flights was pieced together later,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

According to the top House Intelligence Committee Republican, Rep. Mike Turner, “We need to have a critical conversation about our national security and the increasing threat posture from China,” he tweeted after an appearance on NBC News Sunday. “The Biden Administration does not recognize the urgency let alone have a plan to respond,” he said. 

And in a bit of fortuitous timing, the House Armed Services Committee will spend Tuesday morning discussing “The Pressing Threat of the Chinese Communist Party to U.S. National Defense” in hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. ET, and featuring former Trump White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. (For what it’s worth, O’Brien told the Journal on Sunday, “I had no knowledge of any incursions into U.S. airspace as national security adviser, either during my time as national security adviser or before I got there, nor was I briefed on any China issues like this.”)

Worth noting: The Saturday shootdown by the F-22 is believed to be the first air-to-air kill for the aircraft, which was originally built to battle Russian jets, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports. Read more, here

Related reading: 

From Defense One

F-22 Shoots Down Chinese Balloon Off Coast of South Carolina // Marcus Weisgerber: It appears the Raptor just got its first air-to-air kill.

Key Republicans Launch Two-Part Plan to Press Biden on Ukraine // Patrick Tucker: National security committee leaders in Congress are waging a public campaign to signal they support sending more advanced weapons to Ukraine–and faster than Biden is allowing.

Urban Combat Is Changing. The Ukraine War Shows How // Sam Plapinger: Four attributes distinguish today’s city battles from those that have come before.

The Army Picked a Black Hawk Replacement — But the Fight May Have Just Begun  // Marcus Weisgerber: Sikorsky and Boeing are protesting the service choosing a Bell-made tiltrotor, and lawmakers are angry.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 116: Has US foreign policy become too militarized? // Ben Watson: Two researchers compiled data on U.S. military interventions from 1776 to 2019. Here's what they learned.

Some Ospreys on Flight Restrictions Pending Part Replacement // Caitlin M. Kenney: U.S. military limiting the lifespan of a gearbox part to address V-22 hard clutch incidents.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 1976, Lockheed Corporation president Carl Kotchian told lawmakers his company paid nearly $3 million in bribes to Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka for the acquisition of a Lockheed airliner over its McDonnell Douglas DC-10 competitor. Kotchian resigned in February; Tanaka was arrested in late July; and the episode helped inform the writing of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which was signed into law in late 1977.

The U.S. promised another nearly $2 billion in weapons to Ukraine, including more HAWK air defense systems and a longer-range munition that can travel nearly 95 miles. Another 181 off-road, mine-resistant vehicles are headed to Ukraine, too, along with lots more artillery rounds, Javelin and anti-tank rockets, Puma drones, unspecified counter-drone systems, cold weather clothing, and more.
Friday’s announcement “is the 31st such drawdown of equipment from [U.S. military] inventories for Ukraine,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder. “In total, the U.S. has now committed $32 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since 2014 and $29.3 billion since Russia's unprovoked and illegal invasion nearly one year ago this month,” he told reporters Friday at the Pentagon.
From the energy front: Lots of folks thought Russia would cut its oil output to raise gas prices and send the West into recession. However, economist Robin Brooks noted over the weekend, “What actually happened is that production rose from 2021,” he wrote on Sunday. “Putin is fighting an expensive war,” he said. “He needs cash desperately, so [he] can't cut output. The West holds all the cards.”
Also: The U.S. and its allies can and should do more to try to erode Russia’s global nuclear energy portfolio, argue two experts at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Consider, e.g., “In 2021, 14 percent of U.S.-mined and -milled uranium purchases were from Russia.” Additionally, “Nearly 20 percent of EU imports of mined and milled uranium comes from Russia,” they write. But perhaps more importantly, Russian nuclear officials said in December they expect to generate 15% more revenue this calendar year from its nuclear industry and related exports compared to 2022.
Their advice: Sanction Russia’s state-owned provider Rosatom; find alternate suppliers for friendly or allied customers; convince Congress to draw up a counter-Rostom strategy; and “review the 2011 U.S.-Russia Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement to ensure it codifies the U.S. position opposing future nuclear cooperation with Russia.” Read more, here.
Additional reading: