Pentagon Says Suspected Chinese Spy Balloon Spotted Over Western US : NPR
WASHINGTON — The United States is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that was spotted over American airspace for a few days, but the Pentagon decided not to shoot it down due to risk of harm to people. on the ground, officials said Thursday.
A senior defense official told Pentagon reporters that the United States had “very high confidence” that it was a high-altitude Chinese balloon and was flying over sensitive sites to collect information. One of the places the balloon was spotted was Montana, home to one of the country’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.
Brig. Pentagon press secretary Gen. Patrick Ryder issued a brief statement on the matter, saying the government continues to follow the ball. He said he was “currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and presenting no military or physical threat to those on the ground.”
He said similar balloon activity had been seen in recent years. He added that the United States had taken steps to ensure that it was not collecting sensitive information.
The defense official said the United States had “engaged” Chinese officials through multiple channels and communicated the seriousness of the matter.
The Pentagon’s announcement comes days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to visit China. It’s unclear whether this will affect his travel plans, which the State Department has not officially announced.
Tristan Day/US Air Force via AP
The United States is expanding its military presence in Asia, in a series of moves aimed at countering Beijing and reassuring Indo-Pacific allies that America will stand with them against threats from China and Korea North.
The senior defense official said the United States had fighter jets, including F-22s, ready to shoot down the balloon if ordered by the White House. The Pentagon ultimately recommended against it, noting that even if the balloon was over a sparsely populated area in Montana, its size would create a debris field large enough to endanger people.
The official did not specify the size of the balloon, but said it was large enough that, despite its high altitude, commercial pilots could see it.
The official said what concerned them about this launch was the altitude at which the balloon was flying and how long it lingered over a location, without providing details.