China ‘probably spied on the UK’ with high altitude balloons similar to the one shot down by the United States earlier this week.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace insisted last night if China was to send a similar surveillance platform into UK airspace, the RAF would be tasked with shooting it out of the sky.
Speaking to The Sun, Mr Wallace said: ‘Is it the case that a Chinese satellite has probably circled Britain and looked at us? I should think yes.’
Commenting on what would happen if he faced a similar decision, Mr Wallace said: ‘I would have recommended that it was shot down at the moment we could have acquired the most appropriate levels of intelligence from it.
‘You can turn even simple things like weather balloons into a sophisticated piece of equipment.’
US president Joe Biden faced criticism for the length of time it took him to order the destruction of the balloon which had flown from Canada, down through the mid west and out into the Atlantic in South Carolina.
As soon as the large balloon passed coast and was over open water an F-22 Raptor blasted it out of the sky with an AIM-9X sidewinder missile.
According to US officials, the Chinese balloon was able to conduct ‘signals intelligence collection operations’.
Before shooting the balloon, U2 spy aircraft were sent up to photograph the balloon as they were able to reach the altitudes where the balloons were operating.
The balloon spotted over the US was part of a global surveillance fleet which has targeted more than 40 countries, Washington claimed last night.
The suspected spy craft hovered over the US for several days before it was shot down off the coast of South Carolina last week. China has denied the balloon was being used for spying and said it was a weather device blown off course.
An analysis by the US military found that the balloon had numerous antennas on board and could geolocate communications it intercepted.
The balloon was far from an isolated incident and was part of a fleet that has targeted more than 40 countries on five continents, the US government believes.
A State Department official said the balloon was ‘clearly’ for spying – despite China’s insistence it was a civilian aircraft.
The balloon that flew over the US was shot down off the coast of North Carolina last week after causing outrage in America and sparking renewed tensions with Beijing.
The State Department said high resolution imagery captured by American U-2 spy planes as they tracked the balloon left no doubt about what the aircraft was intended for.
They showed the equipment on board ‘was clearly for intelligence surveillance and inconsistent with the equipment onboard weather balloons’.
An official said that the multiple antennas included ‘an array likely capable of collecting and geolocating communications’.
The official added: ‘It was equipped with solar panels large enough to produce the requisite power to operate multiple active intelligence collection sensors’.
While a second balloon has been seen over Latin America, the US said many more had gone up to conduct surveillance.
The official said: ‘We know these balloons are all part of a (Chinese) fleet of balloons developed to conduct surveillance operations.’
The US is also ‘confident’ that the company that made the balloon has direct commercial links to the Chinese military.
The company advertised the balloon on its website and includes videos of previous flights in the US and other countries.
In response to the balloon’s discovery, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken postponed a highly anticipated trip to China.
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week that the balloon ‘confirms a pattern of Chinese behaviour’ that posed a test to the alliance.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Charlie ‘Tuna’ Moore, a former fighter pilot who helped run operations out of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), said the Chinese could have been looking for a ‘variety’ of communications.
He said: ‘They’d pull those signals apart and look for vulnerabilities or ways to tap into them on a more permanent basis.
‘Building a picture of our radar, weapon system and communication capabilities and those of our allies is the whole point’.
Last night, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution condemning China’s use of a balloon as a ‘brazen violation of United States sovereignty’.
The measure passed 419-0 as Rep Michael McCaul, one of its sponsors, said America needed to ‘project power and force’.
He said: ‘They must understand that we do desire peace, but infringing upon our sovereignty leads us down a dangerous path. Our adversaries must believe that any future incursion into American airspace by a spy balloon or any other vehicle will be met with decisive force’.
The 200ft-high balloon passed over the US mainland last week, hovering over a number of sensitive military sites, including nuclear missile silos.
It was shot down when it reached the Atlantic on Saturday.