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Chinese spy balloon spotted in US, Pentagon decides not to shoot down

By Ameya Paleja,

China's spy balloon

A surveillance balloon suspected to belong to the People's Republic of China (PRC) has been spotted over mainland U.S. territory over the past couple of days. The White House has been briefed, and for now, no action is being taken to bring it down.

The discovery of the balloon comes at a time when the relations between the U.S. and China are strained over multiple reasons, ranging from Taiwan and the South China Sea to the Russian invasion of Ukraine supported by the Chinese government.

The U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, is expected to arrive in Beijing this weekend to find a way to ease the strain on the relations. It remains to be seen if the discovery might lead to a change of plans.

What is the balloon up to?

According to a media briefing by the Pentagon, a senior defense official did not reveal the details of the dimensions of the balloon or how long the Pentagon has been tracking it. However, having analyzed the size of the balloon, the department determined that it was large enough to cause damage from its debris field if it was downed.

A regional reporter shared a clip of the balloon as it flew over the skies in Montana.

The Department of Defense has "very high confidence" that the balloon belongs to China and is looking to collect sensitive information from areas such as nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.

The balloon is flying well over the altitude used by commercial aircraft and poses no threat to them or is itself a kinetic threat to individuals in the U.S. The U.S. military got its fighter jets, including the F-22s, ready if the White House ordered them to shoot it down. However, after due assessment, it was decided that the balloon would not be taken down.

Not the first time

The senior defense official also told the media gathering that this was not the first time that a high-altitude balloon allegedly sent by China was spotted over U.S. territory. Without going into the specifics, he added that similar sightings also took place before 2021, when the Biden administration took charge.

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