Themacforums – Pentagon Tracking Suspected Chinese spy Balloon Over the US. Defense sources reported on Thursday that the US is following a rumored Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon above the continental United States, a development that could further strain already strained relations between the US and China.
The balloon has been tracked by the US government for several days as it traveled over the northern United States, according to Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for the Pentagon. He added that the balloon 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 anonymously, a senior US defense official revealed that President Joe Biden had been persuaded not to shoot it down because of concerns that the debris could endanger those on the ground.
The senior defense official declared, “We are convinced that this high-altitude surveillance balloon belongs to the [People’s Republic of China].” “This action has been seen in several instances over the past few years, including before this administration.”
The official stated that despite the balloon’s current flight route taking it over “a lot of sensitive facilities,” it does not pose a serious risk to intelligence gathering. From the standpoint of intelligence gathering, the balloon is deemed to have “minimal incremental value,” the official continued.
The official stated that despite this, the US is “taking precautions to guard against foreign intelligence gathering of sensitive material. We are keeping an eye on the potential for insight-gathering capabilities of the balloon and will keep doing so while it is over the US.
A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed on Friday that the balloon unintentionally entered US airspace.
It is a non-commercial airship that is used for research, mostly meteorological research. Because of the Westerlies and its limited capacity to direct itself, the airship strayed far from its intended path. The blimp accidentally entered US airspace as a result of force majeure, which the Chinese side regrets, the spokeswoman stated in a statement.
According to another defense official, the US believes Chinese spy satellites in low Earth orbit can provide comparable or better intelligence, which limits the usefulness of whatever information Beijing may obtain from the three-bus-sized high-altitude balloon.
The senior defense official stated that it “does not create much value added over and beyond what the PRC is likely able to collect through things like satellites in low Earth orbit.”
According to the person, the US government has communicated with the Chinese government both through the Chinese embassy in Washington and the US diplomatic mission in China.
The balloon’s presence in the US comes at a sensitive time as Secretary of State Antony Blinken is anticipated to travel to Beijing in the coming days, a significant trip intended to follow up on President Joe Biden’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year. US national security officials have consistently warned about Chinese espionage efforts.
According to Josh Lipsky, senior director of the Geo-economics Center at the Atlantic Council, it is obvious that the US wanted to let China know that it was aware of the balloon before Blinken landed there.
It prepares the ground for an extraordinarily contentious encounter between Blinken and Qin Gang, the Chinese foreign minister, Lipsky added. It puts Chinese government personnel in a vulnerable position going into the discussions.
China is considered by Biden to be “America’s most significant geopolitical concern,” and competition between the two countries is fierce. Recent years have seen a rise in tensions over a number of topics, including the independent island of Taiwan, China’s human rights record, and its military activity in the South China Sea.
The Foreign Ministry of China acknowledged hearing about the event on Friday but cautioned against “deliberate conjecture.”
“[We] are attempting to comprehend the issue and confirm the specifics. In response to a question from REPORTER, ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said: “I’d want to emphasize that until it is known what happened, any willful conjecture or hyping up would not help to handle the problem.”
“China is an ethical nation. We follow international law in whatever we do. We don’t intend to trespass into the airspace of other nations. We sincerely hope that all parties involved will approach the situation calmly.
The balloon’s travels are also being followed by Canada, which added on Thursday night that it is collaborating with its American counterparts and keeping an eye out for any potential follow-up incidents.
Biden was briefed and took advice not to shoot balloons down
According to officials speaking to REPORTER, Biden and congressional leaders were told on the balloon’s movements, and the president asked for military options for handling it.
The insider emphasized that it did not constitute a military threat and that Biden followed Milley’s suggestion not to order the balloon shot down. The official also emphasized that the administration responded “quickly” to prevent the collection of critical information.
A “ground stop” at the Montanan Billings Airport and the “mobilization of assets, including F-22s,” according to reports from Wednesday, were cited by the top defense official.
The official explained that the purpose of doing so was to prepare for the possibility of bringing the aircraft down while it was over Montana. “In order to clear the airspace surrounding that prospective location, we needed to be sure we were working in coordination with civil authorities.”
Senior military figures, including Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, finally made the “strong recommendation” against shooting it down owing to the danger it posed to ground personnel’s safety.
Why not take it out? Here, we must balance risk and reward, the official said. Therefore, the first inquiry is: Does it constitute a threat, specifically physical and kinetic harm, to people living in the US homeland? Our conclusion is that it does not. Does it endanger commercial aviation? Our conclusion is that it does not. Does it present a materially increased threat from an intelligence perspective?
Right now, our best conclusion is that it does not. Given that profile, we determine that the risk of downing it was not worth it, even though the likelihood of the debris falling and injuring someone or causing property damage is low in a sparsely populated area.
One possible target for Chinese espionage is the fields of underground Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile silos in Montana.
Chinese authorities will “continue speaking with the US side and correctly handle this unexpected issue,” the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated on Friday.
The senior defense official stated on Thursday that the US “will have options to deal with this balloon” if the risk level changes.
We have made [Chinese officials] aware of how seriously we take this matter. However, we have made it plain that we will take all necessary steps to protect our nation and its citizens.