China Spy Balloon

February 2, 2023
The reported Chinese spy balloon.

The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now.

Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder confirming the existence of a spy balloon.

Why It Matters: The U.S. government confirmed a Chinese spy balloon floating over the U.S. mainland, specifically Montana (home to one of the few military bases capable of launching nuclear weapons). The government will continue to "to track and monitor it closely."

Something To Consider:

This isn't the first time: "It has happened a handful of other times over the past few years, to include before this administration. It is appearing to hang out for a long period of time, this time around, [and is] more persistent than in previous instances. So that would be one distinguishing factor." (unnamed senior official).

The U.S. considered shooting it down: "We did assess that it was large enough to cause damage from the debris field if we downed it over an area. We had been looking at whether there was an option yesterday over some sparsely populated areas in Montana. But we just couldn't buy down the risk enough to feel comfortable recommending shooting it down yesterday."

China: "We have engaged PRC officials with urgency through multiple channels. They've been engaged both through their embassy here in Washington and through our embassy in Beijing.

We have communicated to them the seriousness with which we take this issue. But beyond that I'm not going to go into the content of the — of the message. But we have made clear we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people and our homeland. And so if the risk profile that I described earlier, if that changes we will have options to deal with this balloon."

"… we do not doubt that this is a PRC (People's Republic of China) balloon. And that is an assessment shared across our intelligence and analytic community. Why not shoot it down? We have to do the risk-reward here. So the first question is does it pose a threat — physical kinetic threat to individuals in the United States or the U.S. Homeland. Our assessment is it does not.

Does it pose a threat to civilian aviation? Our assessment is it does not. Does it pose a significantly enhanced threat on the intelligence side? Our best assessment right now is that it does not. And so given that risk, that profile, we assess that the risk of downing it, even if the probability was low in a sparsely populated area of the debris falling and hurting somebody or damaging property that it wasn't worth it and that was the recommendation of our military commanders."

Here's the official report from the Pentagon and here's the transcript of the background call the Pentagon held with reporters.

Pentagon: Chinese spy balloon spotted over Western US (The Associated Press)

Image courtesy of Paul Holzwarth – Here's a video from John Martin

by Jenna Lee,