(NewsNation) — U.S. defense officials are monitoring a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon hovering over the United States.
“The balloon is over the continental United States right now. The U.S. government, including (the North American Aerospace Defense Command), continues to monitor it closely. The balloon is currently traveling well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.
“Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”
He said similar balloon activity has been seen in the past several years. He added that the U.S. took steps to ensure it did not collect sensitive information.
One of the places the balloon was spotted was in Montana, which is home to one of the nation’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
There was a window of opportunity to shoot the balloon down on Wednesday, NBC news reported, and military flights prompted a ground stop at the airport in Billings.
Pentagon officials told NewsNation they are certain the balloon is owned and operated by the Chinese government, but did not say why. The military has opted not to shoot it down over concerns of debris falling on populated areas.
While Pentagon officials said it is not unprecedented for these types of surveillance aircraft to be identified in the United States, this one has been hovering for longer than usual. It came over continental U.S. airspace a few days ago, according to a senior Department of Defense official.
The Defense Department does not believe the balloon adds any significant intelligence collection value over other means available to the Chinese Communist Party.
A DOD official said the U.S. has “engaged” Chinese officials through multiple channels and communicated the seriousness of the matter.
The Pentagon announcement comes days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to China. It’s not clear if this will affect his travel plans, which the State Department has not formally announced.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.