The U.S. military is tracking a foreign surveillance balloon located in the U.S., Pentagon officials confirmed Thursday.
Military officials suspect the high-altitude balloon, initially spotted Wednesday in Montana, is of Chinese origin, NPR reported. The state is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of the nation’s three nuclear missile silo fields.
“The United States Government has detected and is tracking a high altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Thursday during a press briefing. “The U.S. government, to include NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command), continues to track and monitor it closely.”
The balloon was traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic as of Thursday, “and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground,” Ryder said.
It’s also not a new strategy, according to the Department of Defense.
“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,” Ryder said.
A senior defense official would not comment on the spy balloon’s exact size, saying it was large enough to lead to damage on the ground if it was shot down.
“We did assess that it was large enough to cause damage from the debris field if we downed it over an area,” the official said. “I can’t really go into the dimension — but there have been reports of pilots seeing this thing, even though it’s pretty high up in the sky. So … it’s sizable.”
This is a developing story.