The U.S. did not take out the Chinese spy balloon as it approached Alaska because it showed no “hostile intent,” the NORAD commander said, noting that his organization did not detect previous balloons because of “a domain awareness gap.”
Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, the top general in charge of protecting American air space, made the remarks while speaking on Monday to Pentagon reporters.
“It was my assessment that this balloon did not present a physical military threat to North America, this is under my NORAD hat,” VanHerck said. “And therefore, I could not take immediate action because it was not demonstrating hostile act or hostile intent.”
READ MORE about the Chinese spy balloon.
As the balloon drifted across the continental United States, officials decided they could spy on the spy balloon, he said.
“This gave us the opportunity to assess what they were actually doing, what kind of capabilities existed on the balloon, what kind of transmission capabilities existed,” VanHerk said. “I think you’ll see in the future that that time frame was well worth its value.”
Other Chinese balloons have transited U.S. air space without immediately being noticed, VanHerck said.
“As a NORAD commander it’s my responsibility to detect threats to North America,” he said. “I will tell you that we did not detect those threats. And that’s a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out.”
The general did not address whether the “awareness gap” factored into NORAD’s initial assessment that the latest known balloon incursion did not pose a threat to North America.
The Chinese spy balloon was shot down on Saturday by an Air Force F-22 Raptor off the coast of South Carolina. Salvage efforts are underway.