- The United States on Saturday shot down a balloon officials said was a Chinese surveillance device.
- The balloon had been spotted floating over the US and parts of Canada this week.
- Below is a timeline of the balloon’s journey over the country and what is known about the device.
The United States on Saturday shot down a balloon spotted floating over the nation and parts of Canada this week that officials said was a Chinese surveillance device.
While China maintains the balloon was a civilian airship “used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” Pentagon officials say it was “being used by the PRC in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States.”
Though the balloon has since been shot down by F22 fighter jets, it captured the country’s attention for days with questions of national security and international relations. Below is a timeline of the balloon’s journey over the country and what is known about its mission.
President Joe Biden was briefed on the balloon on Tuesday. He was leaning toward taking down the balloon, NBC reported, but Pentagon officials, citing the risk to civilians on the ground, cautioned him against the move and continued to monitor the situation.
The Biden administration faced criticism from former President Donald Trump and other Republicans calling for the US to shoot down the balloon immediately, but national security experts told Insider that taking immediate action to shoot down the balloon would be “impulsive,”
Chase Doak/via REUTERS
While the exact dimensions and features of the balloon are unclear, it was spotted floating at approximately 60,000 feet — well above the range of civilian air traffic, according to the Pentagon.
Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement emailed to Insider that the balloon had “a large payload underneath the surveillance component,” but noted that it presented “no physical or military threat to people on the ground.”
Though there were immediate calls to shoot down the device, officials cautioned that it’s not that simple, in part because fighter aircraft aren’t designed to target balloons.
When a weather balloon went rogue 25 years ago, two Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 fighter aircraft fired more than 1,000 rounds at it and couldn’t shoot it down.
The government of Canada on Thursday confirmed the device had been in its airspace and was coordinating with the United States military to track it.
The United States scrambled a team of F22 fighter jets in response to the balloon sightings over rural Montana, near a US nuclear base housing 150 Minuteman ICBMs.
As the balloon made its way across the states, over the state of Missouri, officials acknowledged balloon surveillance has been seen from China before.
“It is not the first time that you’ve had a balloon of this nature cross over the continental United States,” a senior US defense official told reporters on Thursday. “It’s happened a handful of other times over the past few years, to include before this administration. It is appearing to hang out for a longer period of time this time around, more persistent than in previous instances, so that would be one distinguishing factor.”
At least three balloons were discovered over the US during the Trump administration, AP reported. In 1957, China claimed it shot down what it identified as a “spy balloon,” though US Navy called it “a weather experiment that had blown off course,” according to the US Naval Institute.
A Department of Defense spokesperson confirmed to Insider that the second balloon was of Chinese origins, but declined to give additional details, such as where the second balloon was spotted.
Intelligencer reported the balloon had been seen floating over Costa Rica on Friday.
On Saturday, Colombian officials confirmed in a statement that the balloon had been seen in its airspace hovering at 55,000 feet. The Colombian Air Force followed the object until it left the country.
It is unclear where the second balloon is currently located.
The balloon was shot down by F22 jets on Saturday after it reached the Atlantic Ocean, near the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
“I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible,” Biden said. “They decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water within a 12-mile limit.”
Officials are seeking to recover the debris from the wreckage to determine what additional information can be learned from the device. It is unclear what exactly China was searching for with the balloons.