A suspected Chinese surveillance balloon spotted over the US Airspace is currently being tracked by the US. When asked why The Pentagon refused to fire, its officials explained on Thursday, Feb 2nd, 2023, that they were being careful not to harm people on the ground, hence the decision not to shoot.
The US defense is confident that the high-altitude balloon belongs to the Chinese and was sent to collect information at sensitive sites. One of the top officials admitted to Pentagon reporters on a condition of anonymity, "The US has very high confidence".
To back this claim, he further contributed that the balloon was also sighted at Montana, one of the nation's three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
The Pentagon also provided a short statement through its press secretary, Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said, "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.”
He assured that the US government continues to monitor the balloon and that steps were taken to ensure it didn't collect sensitive information.
This discovery by the US government has since then affected US-China relations. Although, China affirmed that it is looking into the report of the surveillance balloon. The US has "engaged" Chinese officials through several means to communicate the sensitivity of the matter.
The Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, had initially made plans to visit Beijing for the first time this weekend before news of the balloon surfaced. It is not certain if the recent development would affect the trip or not, as the official travel date is yet to be announced.
The Senior defense official who spoke anonymously confirmed that the US got fighter jets ready to launch at the balloon upon orders by the White House but Pentagon advised against the attempt, citing that the size of the balloon would create a large debris field that could harm people.
Although he refused to provide factual information on the size of the balloon, he explained that it was very large and commercial pilots could see it despite its high altitudes. The White House had to halt all air traffic at Montana’s Billings Logan International Airport from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont wrote a letter to Austin on Thursday, stating that; “The fact that this balloon was occupying Montana airspace creates significant concern that Malmstrom Air Force Base and the United States intercontinental ballistic missile fields are the targets of this intelligence gathering mission. It is vital to establish the flight path of this balloon, any compromised U.S. national security assets, and all telecom or IT infrastructure on the ground within the U.S. that this spy balloon was utilizing.”
According to the defense official, the US has verified that the balloon trying to fly over the missile fields has "limited" value because it can't provide China with information that couldn't be successfully collected through other means.
The picture of a large white balloon spotted over the area was reportedly captured by a Gazette Photographer, Larry Mayer, but the Pentagon refused to ascertain if it was the exact surveillance balloon they detected.
Although BBC News first reported news of the surveillance balloon, some residents of the area confirmed seeing a mysterious object in the sky on Wednesday when all air operations were halted. But none could guarantee that the object was indeed the surveillance balloon.
A man who identified as Chase Doak recounted that he also saw a "big white circle" that was undoubtedly not the moon that day from his office window in Billings. He explained that he took as many pictures as he could for about 45 minutes that he believed to have seen in the sky.
“I thought maybe it was a legitimate UFO,” Chase said.