Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) alleged Thursday that the Pentagon rejected a request from the 11th Air Force in Alaska in late January to shoot down the Chinese spy balloon before it entered U.S. airspace.
Sullivan was addressing the Hudson Institute think tank. He told participants that the military’s F-22 and F-35 fighter jets tracked the balloon from a long distance and requested permission to shoot it down on Jan. 28.
Their request was reportedly denied.
— Demetri (@Dimi) March 3, 2023
As first reported by the Financial Times, Sullivan commented that “our Alaska commanders requested permission to shoot it down. Was denied.” He added, “I’m not sure that’s public, but it’s a fact.”
The Pentagon announced in early February that China operated a fleet of the spy balloons for “several years.” It was not the first time the military encountered “an unmanned balloon with no markings.”
According to the Pentagon, the Chinese spy balloon first entered American airspace over the Aleutian Islands on Jan. 28. It then crossed into Canadian airspace before reentering U.S. airspace on the 31st.
It was the next day when President Joe Biden was briefed over the breach of national security.
The Times reported that NORAD Commander Gen. Glen VanHerck instructed the 11th Air Force to “identify and monitor the high altitude balloon.” It was determined that the spy craft “did not present an immediate military threat.”
Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the decision was then moved up to a “higher authority.”
Biden said he ordered the military to shoot down the balloon on Feb. 1 when it was safe to do so. That action, however, was put off for another three days as the balloon crossed the continental U.S. before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4.
Military officials said at the time that they did not want to shoot the spy balloon down over U.S. soil. They determined it was at a high enough altitude to where it did not pose a threat to civilian aircraft, and there was concern over possible casualties on the ground.
That determination was made despite the balloon crossing the Aleutian Islands and several desolate regions just south of the Canadian border.