Back to the Future: Balloons in the Modern Security Paradigm

Arlington, VA | March 17, 2023 — The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies announces a new entry in its Forum Paper series, Back to the Future: Balloons in the Modern Security Paradigm by Dr. Greg Canavan and Dr. John Browne.

It is clear from the coverage and commentary on the recently downed Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon that it caught America’s defense establishment on the back foot. These and other of China’s recent activities appear to be manipulating U.S. strategic warning. The U.S. public, much less U.S. leaders, appear to lack a full understanding of the impact this could incur on our deterrence and strategic stability.

Whereas the detection and intercept of the balloon off the coast of the U.S. mainland on February 4, 2023, developed a great deal of interest in the press, public, and government, much of the attention at the time was devoted to the physical characteristics, trajectory, and intercept of the balloon. This essay concentrates on the impact of such balloons on strategic warning, deterrence, and crisis stability. It also explores the reasons for the extreme care taken in intercept, interpretation, and attribution.

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Cover photo U.S. Air Force.

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