Pentagon tracking suspected Chinese spy balloon over U.S. homeland

Must read

The Pentagon revealed Thursday that it was tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that crossed into U.S. airspace days ago.

Defense Department officials said they considered shooting down the balloon but rejected it, in part, because of possible damage from the debris to people on the ground.

“The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters on Thursday. “Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”

The Pentagon statement said it was not the first time surveillance balloons had been spotted over the homeland.

After President Biden asked for military options on Wednesday, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command, both advised against downing the balloon over safety concerns.

“We assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective,” a senior Defense Department official said. “It does not create significant value added over what the [People’s Republic of China] might be able to collect through things like satellites in low earth orbit.”

The announcement comes just days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to arrive in Beijing for high-profile talks with senior government leaders as part of a push by the Biden administration to try to lower bilateral tensions.

The balloon was tracked from the Aleutian Islands, where radar and communications facilities are located and U.S. missile defenses are based. From the Aleutians, the balloon floated over Canada and into Montana, the location of the Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls, where some of the U.S. military’s Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles are housed.


The Pentagon declined to say how large the Chinese balloon is but said it was large enough to be spotted by pilots.

“It is sizable. It is large enough to cause damage from a debris field if we downed it over an area,” the senior Defense Department official said.

The Biden administration recently canceled plans for a Chinese mill near Grand Forks, North Dakota, near an Air Force base where long-range Global Hawk surveillance drones are based. The mill was canceled amid fears that it could be used as a base for Chinese electronic intelligence gathering.

The Biden administration reached out to China through its embassy in Washington and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

“We have made it clear that we’ll do whatever is necessary to protect our people and our homeland,” the senior Defense Department official said. “We will have options to deal with this balloon.”

• Bill Gertz contributed to this report.

More articles

Latest article