A balloon of unknown origin is being tracked by the U.S. military after it passed over Hawaii, according to a Pentagon spokesperson and other officials familiar with the developing situation.
The balloon is not believed to have flown over any sensitive facilities, and although its purpose remains unknown, the object does appear to possess a payload.
A Pentagon spokesperson speaking on background told The Debrief that the Department of Defense learned about the presence of the balloon late last week.
“Applying newly-established parameters for monitoring U.S. airspace, the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) detected and observed April 28th an unmanned, balloon off the coast of Hawaii, floating at approximately 36,000 feet,” the official told The Debrief in an email.
“Ownership of the balloon is unknown, but there is no indication that it was maneuvering or being controlled by a foreign or adversarial actor,” the official added.
“The balloon did not transit directly over defense critical infrastructure or other U.S. Government sensitive sites, nor did it pose a military or physical threat to people on the ground,” the official also said, adding that while the balloon was operating within the same altitudes used by civil aviation, the object apparently posed no threat to any civilian or military aircraft over Hawaii.
The Debrief also reached out to military officials in Hawaii for comment, but they had not responded to our requests at the time of publication.
The presence of the balloon was first reported by NBC News, which cited three unnamed U.S. officials who were familiar with the matter.
Earlier on Monday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters she did not have any information about the balloon and referred members of the media to the Department of Defense for further comment.
The aircraft does not appear to exhibit any signs of maneuverability like the Chinese surveillance balloon that passed over the United States in February, which Beijing maintained had merely been a weather airship. The balloon was shot down off the South Carolina coast several days after the Pentagon became aware of the object and began tracking it.
Details about debris collected from the Chinese balloon and its payload were discussed in top secret documents recently leaked online by a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, indicating that the balloon was capable of powering Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), a variety of active data collection that involves a sensor capable of producing its own energy, which then measures and records the amount that is reflected off the Earth.
Just days after the Chinese balloon incident, a series of incidents involving the downing of three objects by fighter jets over North America provided more questions than answers. To date, no videos or other imagery have been released of these incidents, and the aerial objects remain unidentified. However, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby previously said that U.S. officials acknowledged the possibility that the objects may have been commercial balloons.
The object currently being tracked by the U.S. military after it crossed over Hawaii in recent days, while positively identified as a balloon, is not believed to pose any threat to aviation or national security interests.
According to the Pentagon spokesperson The Debrief communicated with, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “concurred with the recommendation of his military commanders that no action need be taken against the balloon.”
“The balloon is now out of Hawaii’s airspace and territorial waters.”
“We will continue to track the balloon with the FAA,” the spokesperson added.