Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) told an audience at a think-tank event on Thursday that the Pentagon denied a request from the 11th Air Force in Alaska to shoot down a Chinese spy balloon before it entered American air space.
Sullivan said at the Hudson Institute that the Alaska unit’s F-22 and F-35 fighter jets had tracked the balloon “from far away” and requested permission to shoot it down before it entered U.S. air space on January 28, but were denied. The 11th Air Force is part of the North America Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
Chinese Spy Balloon #Scoop – US senator claims Pentagon refused an early request from US Air Force in Alaska to shoot down the balloon #BalloonGate
— Demetri (@Dimi) March 3, 2023
“Our Alaska commanders requested permission to shoot it down. Was denied,” Sullivan said in comments first reported by the Financial Times. “I’m not sure that’s public, but it’s a fact,” he said.
The balloon first entered U.S. airspace over the Aleutian Islands on January 28, before going into Canadian airspace and then reentering U.S. airspace again on January 31. However, it was not until March 1 that President Joe Biden was briefed, according to previous briefings by the Pentagon.
Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told the Financial Times that NORAD Commander Gen. Glen VanHerck had told the 11th Air Force to “identify and monitor the high altitude balloon,” and determined that “it did not present an immediate military threat.”
Ryder added that VanHerck elevated the decision to “higher authority’ while NORAD and Northern Command continued to “develop options.”
Biden reportedly ordered the military on February 1 to shoot down the balloon when it was safe to do so. The military did not do so until it flew across the continental U.S. and exited over the Atlantic Ocean from South Carolina on February 4.
The Pentagon has not explained when the balloon was first tracked and where, and why it was not shot down before it entered U.S. airspace and loitered over sensitive military sites.
The Pentagon has claimed it did not want to shoot down the balloon after it entered U.S. airspace since it did not pose a risk to civilian aircraft and out of concern for avoiding casualties on the ground, despite the Aleutian Islands and some parts of Montana being sparsely populated.
The Biden administration canceled Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing after civilians spotted the balloon in Montana. The Pentagon claims it was making plans to announce the balloon’s presence before civilians spotted it.
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