Sources familiar with the matter tell CNN that it appears that the suspected Chinese spy balloon movements appear to rely primarily on the jet stream, allowing Beijing to predict its likely path.
China can control the surveillance balloon to an extent, for example by turning on and off the surveillance gear inside of it, the sources said. The fact that China does have some control over the balloon’s capabilities is why the US government has raised their concerns with Beijing about it, the sources said.
What US officials are saying: The balloon’s surveillance equipment appears to be powered by a solar array, one US official said, which would provide the system with a reliable source of power at high altitude. But the solar array does not appear to be connected to any type of motor that would allow China to steer the balloon, the official added.
Pentagon officials said they did not believe the balloon had surveillance or intelligence-gathering capabilities above and beyond Chinese spy satellites in low earth orbit, but unlike satellites that pass rapidly over a location every 90 minutes, a spy balloon can loiter over a spot and gather more of a “pattern of life” of a particular site, the official said.
In the past, the US has simply allowed balloons like this to waft away, without taking any action or publicizing their presence over the US, the sources said. It is also not the first time a surveillance balloon has appeared over the United States.
The US official said there were similar incidents with suspected Chinese surveillance balloons over Hawaii and Guam in recent years. On Thursday, a senior defense official said, “Instances of this activity have been observed over the past several years, including prior to this administration.”
The US government now believes that it has gotten China’s attention about the balloon, and that the matter could be resolved soon, the sources said.