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US is monitoring Chinese spy balloon that has been floating over Montana for the past several days: Biden wanted to shoot it down with F22s but Pentagon advised him not to because of falling debris

  • A Chinese surveillance balloon has been hovering over the northern U.S. for the past few days, the Pentagon confirmed on Thursday
  • Defense officials discussed shooting it out of the sky on Wednesday while it was above Billings, Montana – but decided instead to monitor it closely
  • F-22 Raptors were sent from Nellis Air Force Base in southern Nevada, but they did not engage with the object

The balloon is seen in the skies above Montana

The balloon is seen in the skies above Montana

A massive Chinese surveillance balloon has been hovering over the northern United States for the last few days, senior defense officials confirmed on Thursday – with Joe Biden being briefed on Wednesday about his options, including shooting it out of the sky.

Biden suggested the high-altitude balloon should be shot down, after it was spotted and reported by civilians in a commercial airliner, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal

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The Pentagon opposed the move, fearing civilian casualties if the giant balloon – the size of three buses – is exploded in the air. 

‘The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now,’ Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told NBC News. 

‘We continue to track and monitor it closely.’ 

F-22 Raptors were sent from Nellis Air Force Base in southern Nevada, but they are not thought to have engaged with the balloon – their activities prompted a ground stop at the airport in Billings, however, with air traffic controllers citing a ‘special military mission.’

Sources told NBC News that there were concerns about the possible debris from shooting the balloon out of the sky. ABC News reported it was as big as three buses, and had what they termed ‘a technology bay’.

It was flying above Billings, Montana on Wednesday, NBC reported. 

Joe Biden wanted to shoot the balloon down, The Wall Street Journal reported

China is thought to be flying a surveillance balloon over the United States. Pictured is President Xi Jinping

China is thought to be flying a surveillance balloon over the United States, and Joe Biden (left) wanted to shoot it down. Pictured right is President Xi Jinping 

The Pentagon said that, once it was detected, they acted to prevent sensitive information being stolen.

‘Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information,’ they said – without specifying what actions they took.

The high-altitude balloon was spotted over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday – having flown in above the Aleutian Islands, through Canada, and into Montana. 

The Pentagon said the balloon is still over the U.S. – but would not say where. 

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In a sign of how seriously the incursion was being taken, the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, gathered his military chiefs for an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss the balloon. He was traveling in the Philippines at the time.

Lloyd Austin, the Defense Secretary, gathered his top advisors and military chiefs on Wednesday to discuss the spy balloon

Lloyd Austin, the Defense Secretary, gathered his top advisors and military chiefs on Wednesday to discuss the spy balloon

Present were Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Van Herck, commander of NORTHCOM/NORAD, and other combatant commanders, NBC reported.

They discussed shooting it out of the sky, but decided it was too risky to recommend. 

Pentagon leaders presented the options to Biden on Wednesday, NBC said.

‘Currently we assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective over and above what the PRC can do through other means,’ the senior defense official said. 

‘Nevertheless we are taking all necessary steps to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information.’ 

The official said the balloon does not pose a threat to civil aviation because of its altitude. 

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