The U.S. government is currently monitoring what is suspected to be a Chinese surveillance balloon hovering over northern states over the past few days. Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Pat Ryder spoke at a briefing Thursday afternoon that the government of the United States has detected a high-altitude surveillance balloon floating over the continental U.S.
“The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now. The U.S. government is to include Norad, continues to track and monitor it closely. The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information,” said Ryder.
A senior defense official said the government of the U.S. is “confident” that the surveillance balloon is property of the People’s Republic of China.
The official said the balloon was over Montana recently, and officials were considering bringing it down using military assets. However, they decided against doing so due to the associated risks, adding President Biden was briefed about the situation and asked about military options.
“You did see reports yesterday of a ground stop at Billings Airport and the mobilization of a number of assets, including F-22. The context for that was that we put some things on station in the event that a decision was made to bring this down while it was over Montana. So, we wanted to ensure we coordinated with civil authorities to empty the airspace around that potential area. But even with those protective measures taken, it was the judgment of our military commanders that we didn’t drive the risk down low enough. So, we didn’t take the shot,” said the official.
Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, convenes a meeting with senior leadership over concerns
Lloyd Austin, the Secretary of Defense, assembled a meeting with senior leadership from the Department of Defense Wednesday to discuss the balloon. However, it was decided not to take any military action due to “the risk to safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field,” said the official. Austin was visiting Camp Navarro in the Philippines, around 2,000 miles from China at the time.
The discovery of the balloon comes as the Philippines and the U.S. agreed to increase their military presence on the islands amid growing tensions between Taiwan and China.
The senior defense official said the federal government has been following the balloon for “some time” and said it entered the airspace of the U.S. a “couple of days ago.”
Additionally, the senior official maintained the balloon isn’t likely gathering any information of meaningful value to China and doesn’t present a current military threat to the U.S.
“They’re trying to fly this balloon over sensitive sites, one of which was just mentioned to collect information,” said the official, adding that this is not the first occasion a balloon “of this nature” has been over the United States.