The United States drops the fourth “unprecedented” mysterious object in 8 days
On Sunday, the United States dropped an “unidentified object” over Lake Huron in North America, in the fourth such drop in just eight days.
Pentagon officials said the military strike, the latest in an unusual series of events over US airspace, had no precedent in peacetime.
Part of the reason for the repeated shootings was the “high alert” in the wake of a spy balloon from China that appeared over US airspace in late January, Gen. Glenn VanHerk, head of NORAD and US Northern Command, said in a briefing to reporters.
Since then, last week fighter jets have dropped objects over Canada and Alaska. Pentagon officials said they posed no security threats, but so little was known about them that Pentagon officials didn’t rule anything out — not even UFOs.
“We’ve been closely scrutinizing our airspace at these altitudes, including boosting our radar, which may at least partially explain the increase,” said Melissa Dalton, Assistant Secretary of Defense for National Defense.
US authorities have made it clear that they are constantly monitoring unknown radar signals, and it is not unusual to close airspace as a precaution to assess them.
But the unusually firm response raised questions about whether such a use of force was justified, especially since administration officials said the purposes were not a major national security concern and the takedowns were out of caution.
VanHerck said the US has modified its radar so it can track slowing objects. He said, “With a few tweaks, we’ve been able to get a better classification of the radar tracks now, which is why I think you’re seeing these, as well as having a keen alert to look for this information.”
“I believe this is the first time within US or American airspace that the US Northern Command or NORAD has taken kinetic action against an airborne object,” he added.
Asked if officials had ruled out aliens, VanHerk said, “I haven’t ruled anything out at this point.”
Pentagon officials said they were still trying to figure things out exactly and said they had considered using aircraft guns instead of missiles, but that proved too difficult. They drew a strong distinction between the three shots dropped over this weekend and the balloon from China.
The extraordinary air defense activity began in late January, when officials said a white ball from China appeared over the United States and hovered over the country for several days before being shot down by fighter jets off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This event was streamed live. Many Americans have been captivated by the drama in the sky as fighter jets scramble to shoot things down.
The latest downed operation was first detected Saturday night over Montana, but was initially thought to be an anomaly.
Pentagon officials said Sunday that it was picked up by radar again Sunday as it flew over Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and was passing over Lake Huron.
US and Canadian authorities had restricted some of the airspace over the lake earlier on Sunday as planes scrambled to intercept the object and try to identify it.
According to a senior official in the department, the object was octagonal, with sutures hanging, but had no discernible payload. The official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said the plane was flying at about 20,000 feet.
Meanwhile, US officials were still trying to pinpoint two other objects downed by F-22 fighter jets, and were working to determine whether China was responsible as concerns mounted about what Washington called Beijing’s large-scale air surveillance program.
An object dropped on Saturday over Canada’s Yukon was described by US officials as a balloon much smaller than one — the size of three school buses — hit by a missile on February 4. Friday was more cylindrical and described as a type of airship.
Both are believed to carry cargo, either attached or suspended, according to the officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation. Officials were unable to determine who set off the items and were seeking to establish where they came from.
The three objects were smaller, different in appearance, and flew at lower altitudes than the suspected spy balloon that plunged into the Atlantic Ocean after the US missile strike.
Officials said the other three objects were inconsistent with China’s fleet of air surveillance balloons that have targeted more than 40 countries, which extends at least as far as the Trump administration.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told ABC’s “This Week” that US officials are working quickly to recover the wreckage. Using the acronym to describe things with balloons, he said U.S. military and intelligence officials “focus like a laser” on collecting and compiling information, then putting together a comprehensive analysis.
“The bottom line is, we didn’t know about these balloons a few months ago,” Schumer, D.N.Y., said of the spyware the administration has linked to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. “It’s wild that we didn’t know.”
Eight days earlier, F-22s shot down the great white balloon that had been hovering over the United States for several days at an altitude of about 60,000 feet (18,288 meters).
US officials immediately blamed China, saying the balloon was equipped to detect and gather intelligence signals and could maneuver itself. White House officials said improved surveillance capabilities helped spot him.
China’s foreign ministry said the unmanned airship was a civilian meteorological balloon that derailed. Beijing said the US had “overreacted” by shooting it.
Then, on Friday, North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint organization between the United States and Canada that provides joint defense of the airspace over the two countries, detected an object near sparsely populated Deadhorse in Alaska.
Later that evening, NORAD spotted a second object, flying very high over Alaska, US officials said. It crossed into Canadian airspace on Saturday and was over the Yukon, a remote territory when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered it shot down.
In both incidents, the objects were flying at approximately 40,000 feet. The object was flying at 20,000 feet on Sunday.
The issues have increased diplomatic tensions between the United States and China, raised questions about the extent of US surveillance by Beijing, and prompted days of criticism from Republican lawmakers over the administration’s response.