I guess that if it was possible for the US military to have gained control of the Chinese balloon without destroying it, then they would have, especially since they are trying to gather fragments of it from the ocean. And I have no expertise in either aviation or military technology. But still, I second-guess the decision to destroy the balloon before trying to take control of the pilotless balloon. However, I hope to hear some experts chime in on this.


1 Answer 1


3 options:

  1. Physical capture.
  2. Take control.
  3. Shoot the balloon and pick up the pieces.

1 - Nothing to capture it with.

Early on, the USAF sent up a U-2 to take a look. Get some eyeballs on the thing. For the shootdown, the F-22. Those are about the only 2 (known) aircraft to get up to that height.

Neither of which have any functionality to 'grab it'.

2 - Taking control otherwise might have been usurping the control mechanism? Because apparently it could steer. Given the short timeline while it was still over US airspace, reverse engineering an unknown control signal would be pretty difficult, if not impossible in that timeline. Especially if the control signal was sent and received UP to a satellite.

But it may not have been remotely controlled at all. Many current UAVs can fly a preprogrammed route. From the Global Hawk, to a Reaper, down to a $500 DJI. Once it takes off, its all hands off. It just needs to talk to the navsat constellations for location verification. And its not like the places it flew over were unknown. Grand Forks AFB(RQ-4), and Whiteman AFB (B-2) don't actually move. So plug those coords in, and let it fly itself.

3 - Shoot the balloon and pick up the pieces. Which is what they did.

  • $\begingroup$ If using guns was practical, would it be possible to just make so many holes in it that the balloon turned into a parachute instead? I'm thinking of something comparable in effect to shooting it with a very large shotgun. $\endgroup$
    – Someone
    Feb 11, 2023 at 2:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Apparently the Canadians tried the gun thing with an F-18 and smaller wayward weather balloon. It didn't work. While there were holes, it was still drifting. I expect there was a lot of shared info about that attempt. $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Feb 11, 2023 at 2:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/97384/… $\endgroup$ Feb 12, 2023 at 12:45

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