Military Tracking Mysterious High-Altitude Balloon Over US

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The U.S. military is tracking a mysterious high-altitude balloon drifting across the western part of the country on Friday, the military confirmed in a statement.

Military aircraft spotted and investigated the balloon as it flew over Utah at an altitude between 43,000 and 45,000 feet, determining that the object was not self-propelled and did not appear to present a threat, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in an emailed statement. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also determined that the balloon was not a hazard to commercial aviation.

“The balloon was intercepted by NORAD fighters over Utah, who determined it was not maneuverable and did not present a threat to national security. NORAD will continue to track and monitor the balloon,” NORAD said in the statement.  (RELATED: China Arrests Citizen On Espionage Charges After She Did Work For US Company)

The military sent aircraft to investigate the balloon after it was detected, CBS News first reported, citing U.S. officials. It was last known to be transiting eastward on the jetstream on Friday, a source familiar told the outlet, and was spotted in Colorado earlier in the day, one of the officials said.

The sighting comes just over a year after a large, high-altitude Chinese spy balloon transiting from Alaska and across the contiguous United States sparked a furor in Washington. U.S. fighter aircraft on February 4, 2023, downed the balloon off the coast of South Carolina in U.S. airspace after it had crossed the U.S., apparently in attempt to surveil sensitive military installation.

Biden administration officials said they had taken steps to protect sensitive installations from the spying capabilities of the Chinese balloon. However, the balloon may have picked up electronic signals, potentially those emitted from weapons systems and communications between base personnel, and transmitted data in real time back to Beijing, NBC reported.

Several other balloons were spotted and some shot down in subsequent weeks, but none were determined to be of foreign origin.

At the time, the U.S. lacked the capabilities to detect intrusions of objects like the Chinese spy balloon, often not realizing they had occurred until after the fact, Gen. Glen VanHerck, the former North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) commander, told lawmakers.

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – A CV-22 Osprey takes off from the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield on Nov. 2, 2019 during an incentive flight.

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – A CV-22 Osprey takes off from the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield on Nov. 2, 2019 during an incentive flight. DVIDShub.

After the shoot-down, officials and media reports revealed the craft represented one element of a broader Chinese Communist Party (CCP) program to quietly collect information on other countries.

President Joe Biden’s promise to establish norms of behavior in the skies have not been realized.

Biden administration officials privately lamented that the public outcry and reputational consequences for Beijing following the spy balloon’s reveal that rocked the world in early 2023 damaged relations with China while over-representing the national security threat actually posed by the balloon, according to NBC.

Soon after that call, U.S. military jets used targeting pods to determine the object was a balloon the size of three school buses and equipped with a massive surveillance payload, but no offensive capabilities, NBC reported.

China claimed the balloon was a civilian airship designed to collect meteorological damage that had blown severely off course.

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