Pentagon tracking new unidentified balloon over western US

Last updated on February 24, 2024

American fighter planes intercepted an unidentified balloon on Friday over Utah but have determined it isn’t a threat to national security, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The balloon, which is traveling eastward with the jetstream at around 43,000 feet, or roughly 8 miles, is “not maneuverable” and poses “no hazard to flight safety,” the command said in a statement. It is not clear who owns the balloon.

The incident comes about one year after the highly controversial weeklong saga in which the Pentagon tracked a large Chinese spy balloon that flew across the entirety of the continental United States before it was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean by an F-22 fighter.

The episode drew the ire of Congress given how long the Pentagon had tracked the spy balloon before shooting it down, allowing it to fly close to military installations.

Chinese officials denied it was conducting surveillance, insisting the balloon’s aim was to collect weather data, and it had veered off course due to unpredictable winds. Following that episode, U.S. fighter jets started taking quicker action in similar circumstances, shooting down three smaller airborne objects over Canada, Lake Huron and Alaska.