Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) will lead a Senate investigation into why it took so long for the Defense Department to detect Chinese spy balloons that floated over the United States this month and in previous years, revealing an embarrassing gap in the nation’s air defenses.
Tester says President Biden should have shot down a spy balloon that floated over his state before it ever passed over sensitive military installations such as the intercontinental ballistic missile silos based in central Montana.
“We still have questions about why they didn’t discover these balloons sooner, these objects sooner,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday. “Sen. Tester is going to lead our caucus in investigating this. It’s a good question. We need to answer it.”
Tester will spearhead the investigation as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
Schumer explained that his Democratic colleagues especially want to know why three balloons that entered the nation’s airspace during the Trump administration weren’t detected until years afterward.
“The question that looms and we asked them in the room is, what happened three years ago when we saw that there were these objects flying over parts of America — Texas, Florida, Guam, I think a piece of Hawaii?” Schumer said.
“We want to find out why it took until now” to detect the balloons, he said. “Now they’re upgrading their radars. They’re upgrading everything. But we still should know that answer.”
Schumer made his comments after receiving a briefing Tuesday morning from Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Melissa Dalton, Joint Chiefs of Staff Director of Operations Douglas Sims and North American Aerospace Defense Command Commander Glen VanHerck.
VanHerck told reporters last week that the spy balloons that entered U.S. airspace during the Trump administration were not detected at the time.
They were discovered in subsequent reviews of data by a Pentagon task force charged with investigating unidentified aerial phenomena, according to The New York Times.
Tester, who is up for reelection next year, told The Hill he was not happy with the administration’s handling of the Chinese spy balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina earlier this month.
He said U.S. fighters should have intercepted the balloon over Alaska.
“I think they could have done better on the first incident,” he said.
“In my opinion, they should have shot it down over the Aleutians,” he added. “The decision was made different than how I would have done.”