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Senator Collins Questions Top National Security Officials on the PRC’s Surveillance Balloons and Violations of U.S. Airspace

Click HERE to read Senator Collins’ opening statement.

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ opening statement.  Click HERE to download.

Click HERE and HERE to watch Senator Collins’ questions.  Click HERE and HERE to download.


Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Ranking Member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, questioned senior Department of Defense officials today regarding the People's Republic of China’s recent violations of American airspace and its high-altitude surveillance efforts. 


“This was not a harmless weather balloon somehow blown wildly off course as the Chinese have claimed,” said Senator Collins in her opening remarks.  “This incident highlights the ongoing and increasingly blatant threat to the United States posed by the People’s Republic of China, which is the pacing threat not just for today, but for the foreseeable future.  Ultimately, our Subcommittee is responsible for making sure that the Department of Defense has the resources needed to keep America safe.”


Senator Collins questioned why it took several days before President Biden was informed of the incursion, and she expressed her strong disagreement with the Administration’s decision to not shoot down the Chinese spy balloon until it was allowed to traverse Alaska and the lower 48 states.


“It defies belief that there was not a single opportunity to safely shoot down this spy balloon prior to the coast of South Carolina.  This balloon could have been shot down over remote areas in Alaska or our territorial waters surrounding Alaska.”


She also noted that this incident weakened U.S. deterrence:


“The best way to avoid conflict with China is for President Xi and the Chinese Communist Party to have no doubt regarding the resolve of the U.S. government to defend our territory and our interests.  As the Secretary of State has said repeatedly, this incursion violated American sovereignty and international law.”


Directing a question to Lieutenant General Douglas Sims II, Director for Operations of the Joint Staff, Senator Collins requested that he explain why NORAD did not consider the foreign surveillance balloon to present a hostile intent to North America as it approached Alaska.


“Why wouldn't a foreign military surveillance aircraft violating U.S. airspace inherently be considered to have hostile intent?” Senator Collins asked.

“The key piece here, I think, ma'am, is there was no hostile act or hostile intent.  That would be the first,” General Sims responded.  “There was no impact to aviation routes, which would be another piece of that. The other would be there was no, at the time, there was no suspected impact, a critical intelligence gathering ability in terms of infrastructure, that changed as the balloon made - as its path continued, that change. And that's what prompted a different decision, or a different conversation as it crossed into the United States.”


Senator Collins pointed out that Alaska also has a number of sensitive military installations, and that surveillance balloons have certain advantages compared to satellites in low-Earth orbit, including the ability to dwell over sites for a long period of time.


“It seems to me when you have a craft that's violating international air airspace, and you have sensitive military installations, whether they're in Hawaii, or Alaska, or the lower 48, we should treat it the same,” said Senator Collins.