As of noon Friday, the maneuverable Chinese surveillance balloon, which was over Montana Thursday, was at an altitude of about 60,000 feet and floating over the center of the continental United States in an easterly direction, posing no risk to commercial aviation, military assets or people on the ground, said the Pentagon press secretary.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command is continuing to monitor and leaders are reviewing options, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, who held a media briefing Friday.
“The balloon has violated U.S. airspace and international law, which is unacceptable,” Ryder said, adding that the U.S. has communicated that to Chinese leaders at multiple levels.
The balloon is carrying surveillance gear as well as a payload, Ryder said, not elaborating about the payload.
A reason not to shoot it down at this point, Ryder said, is that besides not posing a threat to people or aircraft, the resulting debris from a strike of this large balloon could be harmful to people on the ground and result in property damage.
The balloon most likely will continue floating over the U.S. for the next few days and updates will be provided as needed, Ryder said.
“Once the balloon was detected, we acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information,” Ryder said.