YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 3, ARTSAKHPRESS. The US is tracking a suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental United States, CNN reported citing defense officials.
Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the US government has been tracking the balloon for several days as it made its way over the northern United States, adding it was “traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”
Speaking on background, a senior US defense official said senior military officials had advised President Joe Biden not to shoot it down due to fear the debris could pose a safety threat to people on the ground.
“We are confident that this high-altitude surveillance balloon belongs to the [People’s Republic of China],” the senior defense official said. “Instances of this activity have been observed over the past several years, including prior to this administration.”
While the balloon’s current flight path carries it over “a number of sensitive sites,” the official said it does not present a significant intelligence gathering risk. The balloon is assessed to have “limited additive value” from an intelligence collection perspective, the official added.
The US, the official said, is “taking steps nevertheless to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information. We are also tracking what abilities it could have in gaining insights, and continue to monitor the balloon as it was over the continental United States.”
The president has been briefed on the balloon’s movements and requested military options on how to deal with it, according to a senior administration official.
Biden took Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley’s advice not to order the balloon shot down and the official stressed that it does not pose a military threat emphasizing that the administration acted “immediately” to protect against the collection of sensitive information.
The senior defense official mentioned reports from Wednesday about a “ground stop” at Billings Airport in Montana, and the “mobilization of assets, including F-22s.”
“The context for that was, it would put some things on station in the event that a decision was made to bring this down while it was over Montana,” the official said. “So we wanted to make sure we were coordinating with civil authorities to empty out the airspace around that potential area.”
Montana is home to fields of underground Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile silos.