Rep. Ruben Gallego: Military should have been better prepared for balloon response

Feb 17, 2023, 12:19 PM | Updated: 12:25 pm

In this U.S. Navy handout, sailors prepare material recovered in the Atlantic Ocean from a high-alt...

In this U.S. Navy handout, sailors prepare material recovered in the Atlantic Ocean from a high-altitude balloon for transport to federal agents on Feb. 10, 2023. (Photo by Ryan Seelbach/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

(Photo by Ryan Seelbach/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

PHOENIX — U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona said Friday the Department of Defense should know that not every unidentified object in the sky is a threat.

“Not all of them deserve to be shot at by a million-dollar missile,” the Phoenix Democrat told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News.

Gallego, a Marine Corps veteran, thinks the suspected Chinese spy balloon that was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4 was handled appropriately.

But downing three much smaller objects about a week later over Canada, Alaska and Lake Huron may have been a waste of resources that could have been avoided, he said.

“I think the subsequent balloons, I think everyone’s kind of overthinking it and they’re overreacting,” he said. “There is a lot of weather balloons out there that are benign, that are done by private companies, that are done by private citizens.”

Gallego said the Department of Defense would have been better prepared if it had properly followed regulations he worked on as chairman of the Intelligence and Special Operations subcommittee in 2021.

He said the legislation created an office in the DOD to identify and plan for different types of aerial phenomena. But the department dragged its feet and didn’t fully staff the office, he said,

“If the DOD would actually implement some of the regulations that I have been talking about, they would … actually be able to say what is a real threat versus what is not a real threat,” he said.

“We don’t want to be spending millions of dollars shooting down $50,000 balloons. That’s not a smart way to use your tax dollars.”

President Joe Biden said Thursday the U.S. is developing “sharper rules” to track, monitor and potentially shoot down unknown aerial objects. The administration has admitted that the three smaller objects were likely civilian-owned balloons that were targeted after radars were recalibrated to detect slower moving items in response to the first balloon.

On Monday, Gallego sent Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin a letter requesting a briefing on the matter.

“I asked them to basically start looking into actually fully funding that office as well as give an explanation about what happened and how we’re going to prevent this in the future,” he said.

The initial balloon floated across the U.S. before being shot down, a delay that was criticized by some. But Gallego said waiting was the right thing to do in that case.

He said the most important thing, once it was identified as a Chinese asset, was to be able to recover the payload to get information out of it.

However, shooting it down over land would have been too much of a risk to the public, he said.

“We don’t know if there was any type of nuclear, biological [or] chemical gear in there that could have gone down over Montana or somewhere else,” he said.

“So taking it down over territorial waters, where we have the right to bring it and salvage, by international law, I think was the right idea.”

U.S. officials said Friday that efforts to recover the remnants of the large balloon are finished, and analysis of the debris reinforces conclusions that it was a Chinese spy device.

The officials also said the search for the object that was shot down over Lake Huron has stopped, and nothing has been recovered. U.S. officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations. The U.S. and Canada have also failed to recover any debris so far from the other two objects.

Due to their small size and the remote areas over the Yukon and northern Alaska where they were shot down, officials acknowledge that recovering any debris is difficult and probably unlikely. The last two searches, however, have not been formally called off.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

The Kaibab National Forest will implement Stage 2 fire restrictions beginning on Friday....

Kaibab National Forest to begin Stage 2 fire restrictions on Friday

The Kaibab National Forest will implement Stage 2 fire restrictions beginning on Friday.

4 hours ago

A motorcyclist died as a result of a three-car crash in Peoria on June 17, 2024. (AP File Photo/Mat...

Motorcyclist dead after 3-car crash in Peoria

A motorcyclist died as a result of a three-car crash in Peoria on Monday afternoon, authorities said.

5 hours ago

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs signed the 2025 fiscal year budget on June 18, 2024. (Photo by Rebecca Nob...

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs signs $16.1 billion budget for 2025 fiscal year

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs signed the fiscal year 2025 budget Tuesday that erases a $1.4 billion shortfall by curbing spending on higher education and more.

7 hours ago

Republican Cochise County Supervisors Tom Crosby, left, and Peggy Judd, right, face election interf...

Judge rules election interference cases to continue for 2 Arizona county officials

A Maricopa County judge denied motions Tuesday by two Arizona county officials to dismiss their cases on potential election interference from 2022.

9 hours ago

Bash & Pop performs during the last Viva PHX in 2017. The downtown Phoenix music festival is return...

Kevin Stone

Viva PHX, a multivenue music festival in downtown Phoenix, returning after 7-year hiatus

Viva PHX, a multivenue downtown Phoenix music festival, is rising from the ashes in 2024 after a seven-year hiatus.

11 hours ago

File photos of lawyers Boris Epshteyn, left, and Jenna Ellis, who entered not guilty pleas in Arizo...

Associated Press

Last 3 defendants — Epshteyn, Ellis, Lamon — enter pleas in Arizona’s fake elector case

After the last three arraignments on Tuesday, all 18 defendants in the Arizona fake elector case have now pleaded not guilty.

12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinic visits boost student training & community health

Going to a Midwestern University Clinic can help make you feel good in more ways than one.


Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.

Rep. Ruben Gallego: Military should have been better prepared for balloon response