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UK defence against Chinese spy balloons has ‘gaps’ says expert

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The UK’s defence against Chinese spy balloons might not be as “watertight” as Rishi Sunak said they were, according to a former national security adviser. Former British Ambassador to the US Kim Darroch said there were “gaps” in technology used by the armed forces, adding the country lacked all the necessary “kit and equipment” on hand.

This appeared to directly contradict statements made by Mr Sunak last week when he said Britain had “all the capabilities in place” to defend itself.

Questions have been raised over the UK’s defences against surveillance by other nations after several objects in western airspace were shot down by the US military – most notably including a suspected Chinese spy balloon. Downing Street claimed the UK is “well prepared” to respond to any security threats to its airspace.

Mr Sunak said on Monday: “People should be reassured that we have all the capabilities in place to keep the country safe.”

However, Lord Darroch did not share the PM’s certainty.

Asked about his confidence in the UK’s “watertight” response capabilities, Lord Darroch told Times Radio: “I am not, to be honest, but I wouldn’t want your listeners to get very worried about that. I am not because I think we have underinvested in defence for the last couple of decades, one might argue ever since the end of the Cold War, and we don’t have all the kit and equipment that we really need and there are gaps around in the technology that our armed forces have.

“So we will have some capability. Whether we have as watertight a capability as the Prime Minister says, I am not so sure. But we have enough capability, I think, that people can certainly sleep easy in their beds.”

He added that Chinese spy balloons appearing in Western airspace were not a cause for panic as they were “just part of the way the world is.” Lord Darroch said balloons were a “cheaper way” of performing surveillance that may provide “different kinds of intelligence” to the widely used satellite technology.

He added: “But this is stuff that just has been going on for years so it is a good story, it is important, but we shouldn’t be panicking about it. It is just part of the way the world is.”

Juliana Seuss, a research analyst with defence experts RUSI, similarly argued that the spy balloon ought not to be a major cause for concern.

She told Politico: “Aerial surveillance is not without precedent, so it’s not a huge surprise to see this kind of thing. The noise around it from the media and commentators is a lot of hot air.”

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Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced on Sunday that Britain would conduct a security review into the issue.

He said: “The UK and her allies will review what these airspace intrusions mean for our security. This development is another sign of how the global threat picture is changing for the worse.

Beijing has denied the balloon, which flew over the US and Canada for a full week before Joe Biden ordered it to be taken out on February 4, was a spy vessel. Three more similar objects have been shot out of the sky by the US since then – of which the White House said today they had not seen any indication they were part of a Chinese spy program.

In response, Beijing has claimed the balloon was a civilian weather-monitoring aircraft, and even pointed the finger back at Washington, claiming it has sent its own balloons into Chinese airspace.

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