'We will do whatever it takes': Rishi Sunak pledges to shoot down spy balloons as US warns of growing threat from China

14 February 2023, 00:36 | Updated: 14 February 2023, 00:50

PM Rishi Sunak stressed the UK wouldn't tolerate Chinese balloons in UK airspace.
PM Rishi Sunak stressed the UK wouldn't tolerate Chinese balloons in UK airspace. Picture: Alamy

By Danielle DeWolfe

Rishi Sunak has vowed to shoot down spy balloons entering British airspace amid warning from the US of the growing threat from China.

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British Typhoon fighter jets remain on standby "24/7" to shoot down possible Chinese spy balloons, the Prime Minister confirmed on Monday.

But he refused to confirm whether any other incidents of unidentified objects had been reported in UK airspace, after Transport Minister Richard Holden suggested it was "possible".

It comes after four unidentified objects were spotted over the US and Canada in recent days - the first of which China claimed was an 'out of control' weather balloon.

The US has since warned that China could continue to pose a growing threat with its collection efforts.

In an attempt to quell concerns over the increased number of unidentified objects entering international airspace, Rishi Sunal said the UK is "well prepared" for such an event.

The Prime Minister added: "As I said, I wouldn&squot;t comment in detail on security matters but people should be reassured that we have all the capabilities in place to keep the country safe."
The Prime Minister added: "As I said, I wouldn't comment in detail on security matters but people should be reassured that we have all the capabilities in place to keep the country safe.". Picture: Alamy

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He added the UK is protected by a quick reaction alert force should an unidentified object drift into UK territory.

Mr Sunak said: "I want people to know that we will do whatever it takes to keep the country safe.

"We have something called the quick reaction alert force which involves Typhoon planes, which are kept on 24/7 readiness to police our airspace, which is incredibly important."

"I can't obviously comment in detail on national security matters, but we are in constant touch with our allies and, as I said, we will do whatever it takes to keep the country safe."

After US jets shot down the Chinese 'spy balloon' off the US coast on February 4, jets were then scrambled to a "car-sized" object flying off the coast of Alaska, followed by Canadian PM Justin Trudeau allowing US jets to shoot down a further unidentified object flying high over northern Canada.

In the latest incident, US fighter jets shot down an "unidentified object" over Lake Huron on Sunday, marking the fourth such object in recent weeks.

"I can&squot;t obviously comment in detail on national security matters," said Sunak in response to specific past intrusions into UK air space.
"I can't obviously comment in detail on national security matters," said Sunak in response to specific past intrusions into UK air space. Picture: LBC / Alamy

When pressed on whether any previous incidents of objects in UK airspace had been recorded, the Prime Minister added: "As I said, I wouldn't comment in detail on security matters but people should be reassured that we have all the capabilities in place to keep the country safe."

It followed comments from the Transport Minister who labelled China a “hostile state” and flagged that the UK needed to be “robust” in its response to such violations.

John Kirby, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, speaking at a press briefing in the White House
John Kirby, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, speaking at a press briefing in the White House. Picture: Alamy

China's foreign ministry on Monday accused the US of flying balloons into its airspace more than 10 times in the past year.

"It's not uncommon as well for the US to illegally enter the airspace of other countries," spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

But National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby denied the allegations during a press conference.

He revealed China had a "high-altitude balloon programme" for intelligence gathering connected to the military, adding that the US was still working to "better understand" foreign intelligence collection efforts.

The balloons have provided "limited capabilities" but as technology advances, it could become "more valuable to them", he said.

As officials could not "definitively" identify what the risks of the balloons were, they reacted out of "an abundance of caution", he explained.

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