The US Department of Defense (DoD) has said that it is tracking a Chinese spy balloon caught flying over American airspace.
The high-altitude surveillance balloon was spotted in the airspace above sensitive military facilities in the US state of Montana. It was also seen flying over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and through Canada.
The Pentagon has refrained from shooting down the spy balloon to avoid the risk of falling debris hurting civilians or causing damage to infrastructure. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has urged the US to remain “cool-headed”.
Chinese MoFA spokesperson Mao Ning [Spy baloon over #US]:
▪️"China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international laws, and China has no intention to violate the territory and airspace of any sovereign countries."
– AP – pic.twitter.com/Mmb1UsRHpW
— EHA News (@eha_news) February 3, 2023
Chinese spy balloon spotted over US airspace
According to a statement released by the DoD yesterday, “The United States Government has detected and is tracking a high altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now.”
In the statement, the Pentagon made reassurances that 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.”
The Chinese spy balloon is currently being tracked by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a combined organization of the US and Canada that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and protection for Canada and the continental US.
A Pentagon official who spoke to the press on the condition of anonymity said that the DoD has “very high confidence” that the Chinese spy balloon was flying over sensitive military sites to gather intelligence.
At one point, the high-altitude surveillance vehicle was detected flying over Montana, where one of the country’s three nuclear missile silo fields is situated at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
It was just confirmed that the Chinese government currently has a spy balloon flying over the US which shut down the air space over Billings yesterday. This is footage from our reporter Travia outside the @KULR NBC studios of the ballon. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/uhjVeLk69C
— Bradley Warren (@bradmwarren) February 2, 2023
Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said that the Chinese spy 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.”
He added that surveillance vehicles like these have been spotted in the past and that the US adopts measures to ensure that sensitive sites are safeguarded from intelligence-gathering activities.
Ryder also said that US aircraft, including F-22 Raptors, were readied in case an order came through from the White House to shoot down the balloon. However, the DoD ultimately advised against this, on the basis that falling debris could pose a threat to civilians on the ground, even over sparsely populated areas.
The US has reportedly “engaged” with Chinese officials to communicate the seriousness of the matter.
The incident proceeds an anticipated visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, amid growing tensions between the US and China. A date has not yet been set for Blinken’s visit.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, has said that China has “no intention to violate other countries’ sovereignty and airspace”.
“We are gathering and verifying the facts. We hope the relevant parties will handle the matter in a cool-headed way,” she continued.
Mao Ning called for calm on the issue and said that “until the facts are clear, making conjectures and hyping up the issue will not help to properly resolve it”.