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U.S. senators to propose legislation to mandate balloon tracking


Two senators are introducing legislation Wednesday to mandate tracking systems on high-altitude weather and research balloons to help the U.S. military differentiate between potential threats.

Senators Mark Kelly, a Democrat, and Republican Ted Budd will introduce legislation seeking to ensure balloons operating in U.S. airspace can be identified, they said in a statement to Reuters. The issue drew new attention after U.S. fighter jets shot down a Chinese balloon and three other objects last month.

The legislation would require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue regulations within two years mandating equipping high-altitude balloons operating at 10,000 feet above sea level or higher with tracking systems to transmit altitude, identity, and location.

Kelly, who previously served as a U.S. Navy pilot and NASA astronaut, said “at a time when our adversaries are using hostile surveillance tactics, there is no reason why our country should have to wonder whether an object in our airspace is a threat, weather balloon, or science project.”

Budd, who is a pilot, said in a statement “the recent shoot down of a Chinese spy balloon that traversed the skies over our country for more than a week highlights the immediate need for the FAA to re-evaluate how we track objects flying over American airspace.”

The legislation would require the FAA to work with the International Civil Aviation Organization to develop equivalent standards for high-altitude balloons worldwide and direct the agency to create a committee to propose recommendations to update existing regulations.

The United States says the Chinese balloon was used for surveillance purposes. China said it was a civilian airship used for meteorological purposes, and that it was accidentally blown off course into U.S. airspace.

President Joe Biden tasked national security adviser Jake Sullivan with presiding over a task force of various agencies including the FAA to propose guidelines on how to address unidentified objects going forward.

Related Galleries:

A U.S. Air Force U-2 pilot looks down at the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon as it hovers over the central continental United States on February 3, 2023 before later being shot down by the Air Force off the coast of South Carolina, in this photo released by the U.S. Air Force through the Defense Department on February 22, 2023. U.S. Air Force/Department of Defense/Handout via Reuters

U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) arrives at a closed-door all-Senators briefing on the state of U.S. defense readiness with respect to China at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., February 15, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

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