Senator says U.S. should consider mandating transponders on high-altitude balloons

Mandating transponders on high-altitude weather and research balloons should be considered by Congress to help the U.S. military differentiate between potential threats, says Senator Mark Kelly.

After shooting down a Chinese balloon and three other objects by U.S. fighter jets, the issue has drawn new attention.

“If we require transponders on them we would make the military’s life a lot easier – we don’t want to be firing AIM-9X (missiles) at a NASA weather balloon,” an Arizona Democrat, Kelly, said in an interview on Wednesday.

“Since these things have now proliferated and now, we know they are a problem, especially from the standpoint of China using them for surveillance, we need to get a better picture so the military can sort out what is what.”

Kelly has previously served as a U.S. Navy pilot and NASA astronaut. He says he is considering proposing legislation to mandate transponders. It would allow air traffic controllers and the military to identify balloons that are not a threat.`

The US has said the Chinese balloon was a surveillance balloon while the Chinese claims it to be a weather balloon.

American fighter jets shot down the 200-foot Chinese balloon on Feb.4, followed by three other objects. Kelly said there is no clear understanding as to what the objects were.

Balloons at about 90 locations daily are launched by the National Weather Service. These balloons carry an instrument tracked by specialized ground equipment.

John Kirby, spokesperson for White House national security said on Tuesday, the U.S. intelligence community is considering the possibility that the objects had ties to a commercial or otherwise benign purposes.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan has been tasked by Biden to preside over a task force of various related agencies to come up with a set of guidelines on ways of addressing unidentified objects going forward.

Acting Federal Aviation Administration chief Billy Nolen said at a Senate hearing on Wednesday that the task force is working. “The FAA is part of that team,” Nolen said. “That team has already met and continues to meet.”


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