The US military has said it does not currently plan to shoot down the alleged Chinese spy balloon as it does not pose a threat militarily or to civilians, but that targeting it could create a huge amount of potentially dangerous debris.
At the same time, it said it was monitoring the path of the balloon as it tracked eastwards across the US.
As Secretary of Sate Antony Blinken postponed a visit to Beijing amid a spike in tensions since the Pentagon revealed it was tracking the object, China has said it is a weather monitoring device and apologised.
On Friday, a senior military officer briefing the media in Washington DC was asked several times why the US had not shot it down, particularly given the US’s claim it is a spy balloon, and that this is not the first time such an incident had occurred.
“As we assess options, and considering the size of the payload on this, looking at the potential for debris and the impact on civilians on the ground or property damage, again, running through the various factors, and looking at in terms of does it pose a potential risk to people while in the air, and right now, as I mentioned, we assess that it does not pose a risk to people on the ground as it currently is traversing the continental United States,” said Pentagon spokesman Brig Gen Patrick Ryder.
He added: “Again, right now we’re monitoring the situation closely and reviewing options, but beyond that, I’m not going to have any additional information.”
While the military has repeatedly said the balloon presents no danger at the moment yet could do so if it was brought down, there have nevertheless been calls on President Joe Biden to order it downed.
Among those voices has been former president Donald Trump who on Friday wrote on social media: “Shoot down the balloon.”
Earlier, a group of Republican legislators including a Montana congressman called for such action.
“Shoot. It. Down. The Chinese spy balloon is clear provocation. In Montana we do not bow. We shoot it down. Take the shot,” tweeted Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke.
In his briefing, Brig Gen Ryder was asked if the US believed the Chinese government was controlling the movements of the balloon, or if was simply movings with the air currents.
“I’m not going to go into any specific intelligence that we may have,” he said.
“Again, we know this is a Chinese balloon, and that it has the ability to maneuvre, but I’ll just leave it at that.”
According to a report in Air & Space Forces Magazine, the US scrambled two Air Force F-22 Raptors from Nellis Air Force Base, in Nevada, on Wednesday in response to the incident.
In a statement issued earlier this week, Brig Gen Ryder said: “The US government, to include NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) ,continues to track and monitor it closely.”
He added: “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.”
On Friday morning, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said Mr Biden had been briefed about the balloon and asked for the military to present options.
“It was the strong recommendation by Secretary Austin, Chairman Milley, and the commander of Northern Command, not to take kinetic action because of the risks to safety and security of the people the ground,” she said.
“President Biden took that recommendation from the military seriously….The president will always put the safety and the security of the American people first.”
A statement from the Chinese foreign ministry said the the balloon was a civilian airship used mainly for meteorological research. The ministry said the airship has limited “self-steering” capabilities and “deviated far from its planned course” because of winds.
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure,” the statement said, according to the Associated Press.