Four Unidentified Flying Objects Shot Down Over North America Last Week
According to the Pentagon, the US military shot down another high-altitude object above Lake Huron on Sunday afternoon.
On Saturday, another unidentified object was shot down over northern Canada, the third occurrence in a week that US fighter planes had shot down objects in North American airspace.
A US F-22 shot down an unidentified object in Alaska airspace on Friday.
Last weekend, F-22s shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina.
That marks the beginning and conclusion of our conclusive knowledge. Here's all we still don't know, as well as some of what we do.
The remains of a large balloon drift above the Atlantic Ocean, close off the coast of South Carolina, in this file photo shared by Chad Fish, on February 4, 2023, with a fighter jet and its contrail visible below it. A missile launched by a US F-22 off the coast of Carolina on Feb. 5 terminated the days-long flight of what the Biden administration said was a reconnaissance operation that brought the Chinese balloon close to US military locations. (AP Photo/Chad Fish)
Are the new occurrences connected to China's surveillance balloon?
At this time, there is no indication that the mystery items are linked to China's surveillance balloon.
Melissa Dalton, Assistant Secretary of Defence for Homeland Defence and Hemispheric Affairs told reporters on Sunday that they were taken down due to an "abundance of caution."
According to Dalton, high-altitude objects can be utilized by a variety of enterprises, governments, and research groups for "non-nefarious goals, including genuine research."
"Of course, the spy balloon from the PRC was different in that we knew exactly what it was," she explained. "These most recent items do not constitute a kinetic military danger, but their course in close proximity to important DoD locations, as well as the height at which they were flying, might pose a hazard to civilian aircraft, raising concerns."
On Thursday, US Principal Assistant Secretary of Defence Melissa Dalton appears before the Senate Appropriations Committee in Washington. Credit: Reuters
Are all of these balloons?
A US official told Haley Britzky that the Biden administration has been cautious about the pilot reports of the unexplained objects shot down over Alaska and Canada because of the conditions under which the items were spotted.
However, at least two high-ranking officials have mentioned balloons.
According to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who was informed on the item by White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan, the object shot down over Canada was most likely another balloon, as was the high-altitude device shot down over Alaska on Friday.
General Wayne Eyre, Canada's chief of defence staff, also mentioned a "balloon" while recounting instructions given to the crew that worked to bring the item down.
Still, deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh acknowledged Sunday, "these things fired down on Friday and Saturday were objects and did not remotely match the PRC balloon. We'll have more for you after we've recovered the wreckage."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to media before of the State of the Union speech on February 7, 2023, in the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
Why are these things being discovered at this time?
Notably, the mechanism used by the US intelligence community to follow China's fleet of surveillance balloons were only found in the last year, according to six people familiar with the situation.
According to the sources, the results have enabled the US to build a consistent technological mechanism for the first time, which they have used to follow the balloons in near-real times around the globe.
The revelation that the intelligence community only developed a reliable way to track China's balloon fleet - which officials now claim has flown dozens of missions worldwide - helps explain why Trump administration officials have strenuously denied knowledge of the three alleged flights over US territory during the former president's tenure.
In other words, it's plausible that it's not the items themselves that are novel but rather our ability to track them.
In addition, as Natasha Bertrand reported on Sunday, the NORAD command recently updated its filters to detect better slow-moving objects operating over a particular altitude.
"In light of the People's Republic of China balloon that we took down last Saturday, we have been more closely scrutinizing our airspace at these altitudes, including enhancing our radar, which may explain, at least in part, the increase in objects that we have detected over the past week," Dalton explained.
On Wednesday, February 1, 2023, a high-altitude balloon floats over Billings, Montana. The United States has been watching a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been detected over U.S. airspace for a few days, but the Pentagon has opted not to shoot it down due to the potential of harm to civilians on the ground, authorities said on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. The Pentagon refused to clarify whether or not the balloon in the photograph was the surveillance balloon. Credit: Larry Mayer | The Billings Gazette | Associated Press
How big is China's spying operation?
It remains unknown; however, it looks to be fairly enormous. Since news of the Chinese balloon floating above US territory leaked last week, fresh facts about what is now believed to be a global monitoring program by China's military, the People's Liberation Army, have emerged.
Officials said on Thursday that they think the spy balloons uncovered by the US are part of a considerable fleet performing worldwide monitoring operations. The balloons have been tracked to 40 nations across five continents by the United States.
Chinese surveillance cameras. Credit: Andy Wong | AP Photo/picture alliance
Was the Sunday object shot down like the others?
The newest flying item was shot down over Lake Huron by a US F-16 fighter jet on Sunday afternoon, according to the Pentagon.
"We did not judge it to be a kinetic military danger to anything on the ground but felt it was a safety flying hazard and a threat due to its possible surveillance capabilities. "Our team will now seek to collect the object in order to learn more," said Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.
A senior government shared on Sunday that the item was flying at 20,000 feet above Michigan's Upper Peninsula. According to the official and another source informed on the situation, it was "octagonal," with strings falling off and no obvious cargo.
Earlier, Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan received a call from the Department of Defence stating that the US military is keeping a "very close eye" on an object above Lake Huron.
"Just got a call from @DeptofDefense — our military has an extremely close eye on the object above Lake Huron," Slotkin tweeted on Sunday. "We’ll know more about what this was in the coming days, but for now, be assured that all parties have been laser-focused on it from the moment it traversed our waters."
Questions remain unanswered
Capitol Hill lawmakers demand answers. Politicians on both sides of the aisle reacted differently to the news of more items being shot down on Sunday.
According to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, the Biden administration appears "rather trigger-happy, but this is obviously superior to the permissive climate that they demonstrated when the Chinese spy balloon was flying over some of our most sensitive facilities."
"What I believe this demonstrates, and what is perhaps more significant to our policy discussion here, is that we must proclaim that we will protect our airspace. "And then we have to invest," added the Ohio Republican. "This demonstrates some of the issues and holes that we have. We need to fill those as quickly as possible since we know there is a threat."
Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, Turner's Democratic counterpart on the Intelligence Committee, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he had "real concerns about why the administration is not being more forthcoming with everything that it knows," before adding, "My guess is that there's just not a lot of information out there to share."
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Congress should look into why it took so long for the US to notice the Chinese government's deployment of surveillance balloons.
"I do think (Democratic Sen. Jon) Tester is looking into why it took so long for us, our military, our intelligence, to know about these balloons. That is something I agree with. Congress should look at it. "That is the question we must address," he stated. "I believe our military and intelligence services are doing an excellent job, both now and in the future. I have a lot of faith in what they're doing. But how come no one knew about this as far back as the Trump administration?"