The United States government is monitoring a Chinese surveillance balloon that has been spotted moving over commercial air traffic over the past several days, according to the statement released by the US Department of Defence.
Responding to a media query about whether the balloon is from China or from any other country, a senior defence official said, "Yes, so, I mean, it is a surveillance balloon. And not to be -- I'm not trying to be a wise guy. But the goal is surveillance. And clearly, they're trying to fly this -- this balloon over sensitive sites, one of which was just mentioned, to collect information. As I said, we do not judge that it provides significant value added over and above what they can currently collect in other means. But nevertheless, it's something we're watching closely."
"It is not the first time that you had a balloon of this nature cross over the continental United States. It has happened a handful of other times over the past few years, including before this administration," he added.
He also said with 'high confidence' that the defence department believed that the balloon is of the People of the Republic China.
"So we do not doubt that this is a PRC 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 -- a physical kinetic threat to individuals in the United States or the US Homeland. Our assessment is it does not," defence official stated.
The defense official said the balloon was recently over Montana and that officials were considering bringing the plane down with military assets, but decided against doing so because of the risks associated, adding that President Biden was briefed on the situation and asked for military options, as per the statement.
Replying to a media query about whether they have contacted Chinese officials, Ryder said, "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 changes we will have options to deal with this balloon," he added.
Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Pat Ryder said, "The United States Government has detected and is tracking a high altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now. The U.S. government, including NORAD, continues to track and monitor it closely. The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information", according to teh statement
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin convened a meeting with senior Department of Defense leadership Wednesday to discuss the balloon, and it was decided not to take military action due to "the risk to safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field," the official said. At the time, Austin was visiting Camp Navarro in the Philippines, which is around 2,000 miles from China. (ANI)