The U.S. Department of Defense has released a photo of the alleged Chinese spy balloon that was shot down by an F-22 fighter jet earlier this month off the coast of South Carolina.
The photo, obtained by Fox News Digital, was taken Feb 3 by one of the pilots of a Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance jet.
It shows a U.S. Air Force pilot looking down at the suspect Chinese surveillance balloon as it hovered over the central continental United States.
The incident, which led to the shootdown of the balloon at 58,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, triggered three subsequent shootdowns of unidentified objects and forced the U.S. military to reevaluate its guidelines for monitoring and reacting to unknown aerial objects.
The missile attacks were the first known peacetime shootdowns of unauthorized objects in U.S. airspace.
After the incident, U.S. officials admitted that the three later objects shot down likely had a “benign purpose” and were detected after the U.S. military set its radar system to detect slow-moving balloons.
The shootdown of the Chinese spy balloon has also ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Beijing, with the latter accusing the former’s handling of the situation as “hysterical” and “absurd.”
The Chinese spy balloon had traversed the entire United States before it was shot down.
The U.S. military reportedly had been tracking the balloon’s movements before it was finally brought down.
The U-2 photograph of the balloon provided key visual evidence to support the U.S. military’s claim of its unauthorized presence in American airspace.