By Andrew Thornebrooke
The Pentagon is stonewalling inquiries as to whether one of the unidentified objects it shot down off the coast of Alaska earlier this month was a $12 dollar hobby balloon.
Speculation that the unidentified aerial object the administration shot down earlier this month was actually a cheap hobbyist pico balloon began to build this week after a group dedicated to the hobby reported one of its balloons “missing in action” over Alaska.
A blog post from the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade (NIBBB) recounted that it had lost contact with its hobby balloon on Feb. 11, and that it was last recorded at an altitude of about 39,000 feet off the coast of Alaska.
Pico balloons are small mylar balloons equipped with trackers that are used by hobbyists to measure weather patterns and can cost as little as $12.
The U.S. military shot down an unidentified object in the same general vicinity at an altitude of 40,000 feet on the same day using a $400,000 AIM-9X Sidewinder missile.
When asked whether that included a pico balloon or if the department had in any way followed up with the NIBBB, the Pentagon deflected.
“We have nothing to provide on this,” a Department of Defense (DOD) spokesperson said in an email.
For its part, the NIBBB has said it is not unusual for such a balloon to go without transmission for some days at a time, and until remains from the balloon were collected, the assertion that the U.S. military shot it down was not verifiable.
“As has been widely reported, no part of the object shot down by the U.S. Air Force jet over the Yukon Territory has been recovered,” the NIBBB said in a blog post.
“Until that happens and that object is confirmed to be an identifiable pico balloon, any assertions or claims that our balloon was involved in that incident are not supported by facts.”
Despite the Pentagon’s recalcitrance to acknowledge the possibility it shot down the balloon, the White House is aware of the issue, according to U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby.
“We just can’t confirm those reports or what the remains of that balloon might actually end up being,” Kirby said during a Feb. 17 press briefing.
“We haven’t recovered it, so it’s very difficult until you get your hands on something to be able to tell.”
Kirby added that he didn’t know if NIBBB would be reimbursed for the balloon.
“I don’t know of any plans to reimburse,” Kirby said. “We honestly don’t know what this is.”
“Given the information that we had at the time and the legitimate concerns about potential surveillance in the wake of the Chinese spy balloon, you make decisions based on the best information you have.”