The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking proposals for technology that can capture, not kill, enemy spy balloons.
The program, called Capturing Aerial Payloads to Unleash Reliable Exploitation (Capture for short), would allow American analysts to assess spy balloons in an undamaged state.
Proposals should be able to capture and recover such balloons at altitudes of around 75,000 feet (23 kilometers), according to DARPA.
The US military currently does not have any equipment for capturing high-altitude balloons, as it only relies on fighter jets and other attack aircraft to neutralize them.
DARPA explained that the US military’s current ability to respond to high-altitude objects “is constrained by physics” and the capabilities of its existing weapons systems.
The F-22 Raptor, for example, can operate at altitudes above 50,000 feet (15 kilometers) but flies at very high speed against a slow-moving target.
“These constraints, coupled with current technical capabilities, result in limited engagement opportunities and difficult recovery operations,” the agency stated.
The Capture program will seek to rapidly develop a prototype that can seize aerial targets in a manner that is safe to the surrounding area.
Interested vendors may leverage existing technologies in making the desired system.
China’s recent sending of military assets over US airspace was viewed by many analysts as a “national security wake-up call to the world.”
Although the Chinese spy balloon did not gather intelligence data, it caused fresh strains in relations between Beijing and Washington.
“I’m committed to work with China where it can advance American interests and benefit the world,” US President Joe Biden said in February.
“But make no mistake about it — as we made clear last week — if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did.”