According to a report by researchers from China's National University of Defense Technology, details about the balloons recently were made public in Beijing in October.
The U.S. Air Force shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the South Carolina coast in February 2023.
While China has used spy balloons for surveillance, the latest revelations could connect them to a more dangerous purpose since they fall under the command of the Strategic Support Force, a separate branch of the Chinese military that oversees espionage and cyber activities.
A report from the National University of Defense Technology highlights China's attempt to establish a command center controlling high-altitude surveillance balloons, hypersonic missiles, solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles and other support equipment.
China is recognized as a "world leader" in hypersonic missiles, capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads, The Washington Times reported.
The NUDT report emphasizes the precision and speed of hypersonic missiles, which are capable of evading air defense systems.
The document suggests that China is modernizing its secret arsenal to usher in an era of "near space combat," referring to conflicts in the high-altitude aerial zone. Experts believe that future conflicts may occur in this "near space," considered sovereign airspace beyond legal reach, The Washington Times reported.
The report recommends a deepened understanding of near-space combat command and adjustments to command hierarchy, control powers and communication.
However, Michael Listner, founder and principal of Space Law and Policy Solutions, disputes China's claim of a lawless "near space," arguing that the legal ambiguity is a dangerous ploy.
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He said the stratospheric region above a sovereign nation remains sovereign airspace.
A report by the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command’s joint operational law team also rejects the concept of "near space" in international law, asserting that high-altitude balloons operate in airspace, according to The Washington Times.
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