Video: Chinese Spy Balloon Hovering in U.S. Airspace Flies Over Montana

A Chinese spy balloon has been captured on video while hovering over Billings, Montana.

A senior U.S. defense official said that authorities were tracking what they believed with "very high confidence" was a high-altitude Chinese surveillance balloon over Montana on Thursday, according to the Associated Press. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, reportedly expressed concerns about the altitude of the balloon and length of time that it hovered in the air.

Video shared to YouTube by the Billings Gazette and attributed to Chase Doak showed the balloon lingering high above Billings on Wednesday. Billings-based reporter John Martin shared video to Twitter of the object on the same night, while commenting that it had only "moved a little bit in the past 40 minutes."

Two flights into Billings Logan International Airport were diverted and the FAA ordered 50 miles of airspace to be shut down while the balloon was hovering in the area, according to local ABC affiliate KFBB.

The senior defense official said that the U.S. had "engaged" Chinese officials over the matter and had decided against shooting down the object due to the potential risk to people on the ground.

China government surveillance
A police officer stands guard before the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at the Great Hall of the People on March 10, 2022, in Beijing. A suspected Chinese spy balloon has been captured on video hovering over Billings, Montana. Kevin Frayer/Getty

"The United States Government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now," Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder said in a statement obtained by Newsweek.

Ryder added that officials were continuing to "track and monitor [the balloon] closely," while noting that "instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years."

"The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground," he continued. "Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information."

Montana is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of only a few U.S. sites to house nuclear missile silos. It was unclear whether the balloon flew over the base, which is near the city of Great Falls—around 200 miles northwest of Billings.

The U.S. did have F-22 fighter jets ready to shoot down the balloon if ordered by the White House, according to the senior defense official. President Joe Biden's decision to not shoot down the balloon was heavily criticized by Republicans on social media shortly after the balloon was reported.

A senior Biden administration official told Newsweek that the president had been briefed on the matter and decided against shooting the balloon down, heeding the advice of the nation's top military officials.

"It was the strong recommendation by [Secretary of Defense Lloyd] Austin, Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark] Milley, the Commander of Northern Command, not to take kinetic action because of risk to safety and security of the people on the ground," the official said. "President Biden took that recommendation."

The incident comes as Republican lawmakers and retired military officials warn that the U.S. may not be ready for a potential future war with China. It also comes days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken is reportedly expected to travel to China, although his trip has not been officially confirmed by the State Department.