2023 Chinese Spy Balloon
The U.S. Department of Defense stated publicly that they had detected and were tracking a Chinese surveillance balloon that traveled from the Aleutian Islands, across Canada, and into U.S. airspace.
The high altitude surveillance balloon was, as of February 2, 2023, over Montana, and being actively tracked by governmental entities, including NORAD. In a brief release, the DoD stated that the balloon "does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground."
The New York Times and NBC News reported that F-22 fighters were sent into the air to observe and track the balloon in Montana.
In a background briefing with the press, a senior defense official stated:
"Secretary Austin convened senior DoD leadership yesterday, even as he was on the road in the Philippines. It was the strong recommendation by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley, and the commander of NORTHCOM, General VanHerck, not to take kinetic action due to the risk to safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field...Currently we assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective. But we are taking steps, nevertheless, to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information."
In reference to the fact that the balloon was near U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles siloed in Montana, the official responded:
"Yes, so clearly the intent of this balloon is for surveillance. And so the current flight path does carry it over a number of sensitive sites. I'd just say a couple of things. First, our best assessment at the moment is that whatever the surveillance payload is on this balloon, it does not create significant value added over and above what the PRC is likely able to collect through things like satellites in Low Earth Orbit."
On Friday, February 3, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled an imminent trip to Beijing amidst a diplomatic uproar. The Chinese government expressed regret for the incident and issued a statement:
"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."
On Saturday, February 4, 2023, the U.S. military shot down the balloon off the coast of the Carolinas, on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.