Here are five points on the balloon:
The balloon was first spotted over Montana on Thursday. After a Pentagon news briefing on the issue, China issued a statement, calling it a "civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes". The Chinese foreign ministry said the airship deviated from its planned course due to Westerlies.
The presence of the balloon shocked the intelligence community in the US, who said countries now rely on satellite technology to gather data. However, Peter Layton, a fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute in Australia and former Royal Australian Air Force officer, told CNN that the US has used hundreds of these balloons since the early days of the Cold War to monitor its adversaries.
He also pointed out that the miniaturisation of electronics due to advances in technology has made payloads weigh less, thereby making balloons cheaper and easier to launch than satellites. "They're very low signature and low-to-zero emission, so hard to pick up with traditional situational awareness or surveillance technology," Blake Herzinger, an expert in Indo-Pacific defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, was quoted as saying by CNN.
A senior defence official told the New York Times (NYT) that surveillance balloons strayed into US territory previously too - once during the Biden administration and three times during the Trump administration. The official added that China has developed a fleet of balloons to conduct surveillance operations and that these balloons have been spotted over countries across five continents.
The Biden administration officials have not confirmed the size of the balloon, but on Thursday, ABC News reported that it was almost the sizes of three buses.
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