by David Shepardson
(MAINNEWS) – WASHINGTON, 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.