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Chinese surveillance balloon over US causes fearful gasbagging

Floats over missile silos, shooting it down ruled more dangerous than whatever it's up to

Updated A Chinese high-altitude spy balloon, spotted drifting over America, has caused concern about national security – though the US Department of Defense says it will not be shot down by F22s at this time.

"The United States Government has detected and is tracking a high altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now," read a statement from Pentagon press secretary brigadier general Pat Ryder. Ryder said the balloon was carefully being tracked by North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and does not currently pose a physical threat.

"Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years," said Ryder, adding that the US government had taken immediate actions to protect against collection of sensitive information.

A senior DoD official said the US government is confident the balloon belongs to China. At at least one point in time, it was above Montana – one of three states that are home to siloed nuclear weapons.

Reaction to the balloon having hit the US military's radar has, predictably, generated much criticism of the Biden Administration's approach to national security and US borders.

But the Pentagon has pointed out the balloon is … erm … full of hot air.

"Currently we assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective," said the senior defense official. Although the balloon is clearly for surveillance and flying over sensitive sites, the official position is it likely does not provide any more value that what can be collected from a Low Earth Orbit satellite, and its tech is not "revolutionary."

The balloon is known to be hovering at a higher altitude than commercial air traffic and is therefore not an immediate danger. Plans to deflate it forcibly have nonetheless reportedly been considered, with one brainstormed solution being to shoot it out of the sky using F-22 fighter planes.

However chairman of the joint chiefs, General Milley, and the commander of DoD combatant command Northern Command (NORTHCOM), General VanHerck, recommended no "kinetic action" be taken against the balloon due to the risks that falling debris could be bad news for the safety and security of people on the ground.

However, according to the unnamed senior defense official, that decision could change if the balloon becomes a further risk.

The balloon's existence has produced some amusing responses, including from Trekkies …

… the US Naval Institute …

… and at least one fan of The Simpsons.

The Register, for the record, does not welcome our new balloon overlords. ®

Updated to add

China's now said the balloon is a civilian weather monitor that went off course, and that it regrets what's happened here.

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