Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds an On-Camera Press Briefing
Feb. 3, 2023
Q: General, you said the balloon is maneuverable. So do — does that mean that it's not drifting?
GEN. RYDER: So the balloon is maneuverable. Clearly, it's in — it's violated U.S. airspace. And again, we've communicated that fact to the PRC.
Q: And if possible, can you tell us if the balloon, when it enters the — entered the U.S. airspace, has it changed its course in any way?
GEN. RYDER: The balloon has changed its course, which is, again, why we're monitoring it, but that's about as specific as I can get. Thank you.
Q: But is it — you say that it's moving eastward and it's over the continental U.S. It's change — it's not over Montana anymore. Is the Chinese government controlling the movement of the balloon, or is it just floating with air streams?
GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Jennifer. So I'm not going to go into any specific intelligence that we may have. Again, we know this is a Chinese balloon and that it has the ability to maneuver, but I'll just leave it at that.
The narrative of the People's Republic of China is that this is a weather balloon that drifted off course, implying the PRC has no control over it. The US DoD narrative is that it can maneouver and is therefore akin to an unmanned aircraft.
To me, that feels primarily like a legal distinction. The DoD has not committed to saying that the balloon actually did maneouver in US airspace. (There's more at the end of the last quote below.)
Senior Defense Official and Senior Military Official Hold an Off-Camera, On-Background Press Briefing Update on the High-Altitude Surveillance Balloon
Feb. 4, 2023
As planned, the F-22 engaged the balloon from an altitude of 58,000 feet. The balloon itself was between 60 and 65,000 feet.
Our assessment, and this is just our assessment, and we're going to learn more as we pick up the debris, was that it was not likely to provide significant added — additive value over and above other PRC intel capabilities such as, you know, satellites in Low Earth Orbit, for example.
So — so the debris field is at least seven miles spread out. So you can have an understanding, it doesn’t just fall down. It would have fallen at least in a seven-mile kind of radius that you'd have to clear and ensure safety of U.S. citizens and also infrastructure.
Gen. Glen VanHerck, Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command and United States Northern Command, Holds an Off-Camera, On-The-Record Briefing on the High-Altitude Surveillance Balloon Recovery Efforts
Feb. 6, 2023
Q: Thank you. And on the prior balloons, was NORTHCOM involved in tracking the balloon that was at the early stage of the Biden Administration and also the three that transited during the Trump Administration, and what can you tell us about those that were different?
GEN. VANHERCK: So those balloons, so every day as a NORAD commander it's my responsible to -- responsibility to detect threats to North America. I will tell you that we did not detect those threats. And that's a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out. But I don't want to go in further detail.
Q: And I have a follow-up question. Could you give us an estimate of how big the balloon was? We saw that it had solar panels and it could also potentially had a recording device on it.
GEN. VANHERCK: Yes, so the balloon assessment was up to 200 feet tall for the actual balloon. The payload itself, I would categorize that as a jet airliner type of size, maybe a regional jet such as a ERJ or something like that. Probably weighed in excess of a couple thousand pounds. So I would -- from a safety standpoint, picture yourself with large debris weighing hundreds if not thousands of pounds falling out of the sky. That's really what we're kind of talking about.
So glass off of solar panels potentially hazardous material, such as material that is required for batteries to operate in such an environment as this and even the potential for explosives to detonate and destroy the balloon that -- that could have been present.
GEN. VANHERCK: Thanks, Jennifer. It wasn't time. It -- the domain awareness was there as it approached Alaska. It was my assessment that this balloon did not present a physical military threat to North America, this is under my NORAD hat. And therefore, I could not take immediate action because it was not demonstrating hostile act or hostile intent. From there, certainly, provided information on the status of the whereabouts of the balloon. And moving forward, kept the department and [..] the government of Canada in the loop as my NORAD, I have a boss in Canada as well. Over.
I would point out and I think it's important to talk about is, day to day we do not have the authority to collect intelligence within the United States of America. In this case, specific authorities were granted to collect intelligence against the balloon specifically and we utilized specific capabilities to do that, Jennifer. And I'm sorry I can't give you further detail.
As far as the actual site, the 20 by 20 [miles] was a -- that's a site -- and area that we cleared out from the maritime -- or the notice to mariners for safety. We wanted to clear that box out. I cleared another box out that was 150 miles by 150 miles for air traffic to ensure that there was no air traffic that was potentially involved, to minimize risks to all personnel and infrastructure.
The analysis -- and oh, by the way, we were able to get significant analysis throughout this process, as a cross, that enabled us to make this a much more safe and effective operation. So, in partnership with NASA, who gave us an assessment that would potentially be up to six or seven miles of debris. That's where -- that's where we decided to make the engagement six miles off the coast so that no debris would go back over the coast.
Now, with that said, David, I think it's important to point out, there was debris that's expanded out further, we have collected the majority of that debris that fell in the ocean and other places. Now, what we're talking about, is really that superstructure below that fell down and limited itself to this 1,500 meter by 1,500-meter box that we're talking about. Does that clarify?
Q: Yeah. And could you answer the question about whether there was a warhead in the missile?
GEN. VANHERCK: Yeah, absolutely. There was a warhead in the missile. You can see that explosion on TV as it goes through the lower part of the balloon and right there through the superstructure.
And they utilized the winds and it's a maneuverable platform as well, but [they] utilize their maneuverability to strategically position themselves to utilize the winds to traverse portions of countries that they want to see for collection purposes.
Q: So -- so just important clarification here: You didn't have a reason to think there were explosives. You just -- this was out of an abundance of caution, and you thought it might potentially have them, so you had to be careful. Is that correct, or did you have reason to believe there were explosives?
GEN. VANHERCK: I would say it was the prior. I did not have any corroboration or confirmation of explosives on this platform. That was an -- an assessment that we wanted just to make sure for safety purposes.