The Pentagon has taken ‘Custody” of a Chinese spy balloon hovering over Montana, which is home to 150 ballistic missile silos. Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart of Reuters tells us Canada has reported a second possible incident. They write (abridged):
A Chinese spy balloon has been flying over the United States for a couple of days, U.S. officials said on Thursday, in what would be a brazen act just days ahead of a planned trip to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Fighter jets were mobilized, but military leaders advised President Joe Biden against shooting the balloon out of the sky for fear debris could pose a safety threat, advice Biden accepted, U.S. officials said. […]
A Chinese spy balloon has been flying over the United States for a couple of days, U.S. officials said, one a defense expert estimates is equivalent to the size of three bus lengths https://t.co/BhcAHLUddz 1/5 pic.twitter.com/oMrJXNuwgz
— Reuters (@Reuters) February 3, 2023
Defense expert John Parachini estimated the size of the balloon was equivalent to three bus lengths.
Billings resident Chase Doak, who filmed it on Wednesday, said at first he thought it was a star.
“But I thought that was kind of crazy because it was broad daylight and when I looked at it, it was just too big to be a star,” he told Reuters.
One of the officials said the flight path would carry the balloon over a number of sensitive sites, but did not give details. Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana is home to 150 intercontinental ballistic missile silos.
A separate U.S. official said the balloon had been tracked near the Aleutian Islands and Canada before entering the United States.
Such balloons typically operate at 80,000-120,000 feet (24,000-37,000m), well above where commercial air traffic flies. The highest-performing fighter aircraft typically do not operate above 65,000 feet, although spy planes such as the U-2 have a service ceiling of 80,000 feet or more.
Craig Singleton, a China expert of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that such balloons had been widely used by the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War and are a low-cost intelligence gathering method.
Surveillance goes both ways.
From military spy satellites in space to advanced electronic intelligence aircraft and submarines, the U.S. routinely deploys an array of assets to monitor China’s military build-up, analysts and diplomats say. China has often complained about surveillance by the United States, including its deployment of ships or planes near Chinese military exercises.
Spy balloons have flown over the United States several times in recent years, but this balloon appeared to be lingering longer than in previous instances, one of the U.S. officials said.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the People’s Republic of China Response to the Airship
“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure. The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.”