Alaska News

Top general assessed Chinese balloon did not present military threat as it approached Alaska

WASHINGTON — As questions persist about the Chinese surveillance balloon’s journey across Alaska, a top military general provided some details Monday about why the balloon was able to enter the state.

In a media briefing, Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, said that as the balloon approached Alaska, he assessed that it did not pose a “physical military threat” to North America.

“And therefore, I could not take immediate action because it was not demonstrating hostile act or hostile intent,” said VanHerck, who leads the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

“From there, certainly, provided information on the status of the whereabouts of the balloon,” VanHerck said.

[The Chinese surveillance balloon traveled across Alaska, but questions about its exact path remain unanswered]

The balloon entered the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone north of the Aleutian Islands on Jan. 28 and entered Canadian airspace on Jan. 30, according to the Department of Defense. Details about VanHerck’s assessment came after a reporter asked why the balloon was not downed as it neared the Aleutian Islands.

Military officials said shooting the balloon over land would have posed a threat to civilians. The Pentagon took down the balloon on Saturday off the South Carolina coast.


[US military failed to detect prior Chinese incursions, general says]

Specifics regarding the balloon’s path across the state and the U.S. military’s initial response remain unclear. A senior military official said during a Saturday media briefing that after the balloon entered Alaska, it remained over the state’s physical territory, moving east across the northern part of the state and into Canada’s Northwest Territories.

A representative with Alaska Command and Alaska NORAD region directed questions about the balloon to NORAD Northern Command.

Riley Rogerson

Riley Rogerson is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C., and is a fellow with Report for America. Contact her at