Shooting down of objects over Alaska, Yukon and Lake Huron over the weekend heightens tensions
The U.S. Air Force general overseeing North American airspace said a recovery effort will be undertaken to gain more information about an octagonal object shot down by fighter jets over Lake Huron, the latest incident since a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon put North American security forces on high alert.
Gen. Glen VanHerck, head of North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) and Northern Command, said the object likely fell into Canadian waters.
On President Joe Biden's order, a U.S. F-16 fighter jet shot down the object at 2:42 p.m. ET Sunday over Lake Huron, Pentagon spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Patrick Ryder said in an official statement. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz tweeted that airmen in the 148th Fighter Wing, an Air National Guard fighter unit in Duluth, Minn., shot down the object.
- What questions do you have about the objects that were shot down over the weekend? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Though it did not pose a military threat, the object could have potentially interfered with domestic air traffic as it was traveling at 6,100 metres, and it might have had surveillance capabilities.
U.S. and Canadian authorities had restricted some airspace over the lake earlier Sunday as planes scrambled to intercept and try to identify the object.
U.S. officials identified an object as a Chinese surveillance balloon and shot it down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4.
The military has not been able to identify what three recent objects since then are, how they stay aloft, or where they are coming from, said VanHerck.
"We're calling them objects, not balloons, for a reason," he said.
WATCH l Politicians want clarity from military officials on latest objects:
Unidentified object shot down over Lake Huron Sunday
A fourth unidentified object seen flying over North America was shot out of the sky Sunday, this time over Lake Huron, as investigators searched for the wreckage of one downed Saturday over Yukon.
The list includes an object shot down on Saturday over Yukon that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau characterized a day later as "a threat to civil aviation and a potential threat to Canadians."
Trudeau said he ordered the object shot down, and an American F-22 destroyed it at 3:41 p.m. ET.
As well, on Friday, a U.S. F-22 fighter jet shot down an unidentified object said to be about the size of a small car near Deadhorse, Alaska.
More monitoring, more objects
Officials say a key change explaining the recent flurry was to NORAD's filters to allow them to detect objects moving slowly and at different altitudes, without specifying which ones.
"We have been more closely scrutinizing our airspace at these altitudes, including enhancing our radar, which may at least partly explain the increase," said Melissa Dalton, assistant defence secretary for homeland defence.
U.S. authorities have made clear that they constantly monitor for unknown radar blips, and it is not unusual to shut down airspace as a precaution to evaluate them. But the unusually assertive response was raising questions about whether such use of force was warranted, particularly as administration officials said the objects were not of great national security concern and the downings were just out of caution.
"I believe this is the first time within United States or American airspace that NORAD or United States Northern Command has taken kinetic action against an airborne object," said VanHerck.
Beijing said Monday it had no information on the latest three objects. The Chinese government said the balloon shot down off the Carolinas was a civilian research craft that had mistakenly blown off course, and accused the United States of overreacting.
Beijing accusation short on specifics
China also said that U.S. high altitude balloons had flown over its airspace without permission more than 10 times since the beginning of 2022.
"Since last year, the U.S.'s high-altitude balloons have undergone more than 10 illegal flights into Chinese airspace without the approval of the relevant Chinese departments," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a regular briefing in Beijing in response to a question.
Wang did not specifically describe the balloons as military or for espionage purposes and did not provide further details.
Asked how China had responded to such incursions into its airspace, Wang said its responses had been "responsible and professional."
The United States denied Beijing's assertions, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said.
"Not true. Not doing it. Just absolutely not true," he said in an interview with MSNBC. "We are not flying balloons over China."
The widening diplomatic row since the initial balloon sighting has seen the United States postpone a visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
British Transport Minister Richard Holden said Monday it was "possible" China had flown spy balloons over the United Kingdom.
Britain will review its security in the skies, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.
Wallace said "this development is another sign of how the global threat picture is changing for the worse."
With files from CBC News and The Associated Press
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