Feb 03, 2023
By Angus Gillespie
Chinese authorities say a surveillance balloon sighted over sensitive U.S. territory in the state of Montana is theirs, but insist its purpose is solely for weather research, and not a spy mission. and that it was blown off course by unexpected strong winds.
China says the powerful “westerlies” blew the balloon off course and it struggled to regain course due to the “limited self-steering capability” of the device, which has been described as being the size of three buses.
However, U.S. authorities are skeptical of China’s assertions and as of now are still treating it as a surveillance spy device until the Chinese are able to prove otherwise.
Both U.S. and Canadian military at NORAD are closely monitoring the balloon.
Pentagon spokesman Brigadier-General Patrick Ryder said the American 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.” It’s believed the balloon entered U.S. airspace from Canada.
According to a senior U.S. defense official, the balloon does not present a significant intelligence gathering risk, despite a flight path above a number of sensitive sites. The U.S. does have several nuclear sites in the state of Montana.
U.S. President Joe Biden requested military options on how to deal with the matter. He ultimately took the advice not to have the balloon shot down, with officials stressing it doesn’t pose a military threat.