The U.S. military shot down a mysterious flying object near the Canadian border over Lake Huron Sunday, the fourth time in nine days that fighter jets have scrambled to fire on objects appearing unexpectedly in the air above North America.
The Pentagon said in a statement that the latest object, which was flying at 20,000 feet when it was intercepted in American airspace by an F-16, was considered a threat in part because of “potential surveillance capabilities.” The object was linked to an earlier radar signal picked up over Montana, which passed close to sensitive military locations, according to the statement.
Defence Minister Anita Anand said North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) launched Canadian and U.S. aircraft to investigate the latest incident and the object was taken down in American airspace by a U.S. fighter jet. “We unequivocally support this action,” she said in a statement on Twitter.
Plans are under way to retrieve and study the object, which “likely” fell into Canadian waters, U.S. Air Force General Glen VanHerck, the commander of NORAD, told reporters.
Separately, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told journalists a recovery team is headed into Yukon’s wilderness to retrieve and analyze the third airborne intruder, believed to be a surveillance balloon, that was brought down Saturday by a U.S. warplane over Canada’s north.
Speaking Sunday in Ottawa before leaving on a pre-scheduled trip to Whitehorse, Mr. Trudeau declined to speculate about its nature or purpose. Ms. Anand, however, told reporters Saturday night that the cylindrical object, shot down at 3:41 p.m. ET, on Saturday over central Yukon, was smaller but “potentially similar” to the spy balloon intercepted by the United States earlier this month.
General Wayne Eyre, the chief of Canada’s defence staff, told reporters Saturday the object shot down over Yukon, which he called a balloon, was taken out by an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile from a U.S. F-22 fighter jet.
This spate of unknown flying objects causing alarm in North America began at the end of January when what the United States called a Chinese spy balloon was spotted drifting from Alaska through Western Canada and then across the continental U.S. It was finally shot down off the coast of South Carolina coast on Feb. 4.
A second object was shot down over Alaska Friday.
Neither the United States nor Canada have publicly identified where they believe the second, third and fourth objects originated. But a Canadian government official said the object brought down over Yukon Saturday is believed to be of Chinese or Russian origin. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the official because they are not authorized to speak publicly about this matter.
The official also said Canada is co-ordinating with United States in efforts to recover the object from Lake Huron, adding that the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Samuel Risley is en route to help.
David Perry, president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, a think tank, said the events of the past two weeks are unprecedented in NORAD’s history: It’s the first time, he says, that the organization has publicly acknowledged shooting down an object – let alone four – in North American air space.
These incidents underscore the need to upgrade continental warning systems, he said.
Last summer, Ottawa announced it was allocating funding to modernize surveillance and detection equipment as its contribution to overhaul NORAD’s ability to track incoming threats.
“This highlights that there is a pretty clear need to know what is going on,” Mr. Perry said. Although the nature and purpose of the objects are not yet fully clear, “there is something coming from somewhere that is of concern.”
Both objects this weekend were flying at heights that officials said created a risk to civilian aircraft.
The Pentagon said the object shot down over Lake Huron was detected by NORAD early Sunday. It was fired upon at about 2:42 p.m. ET, at the direction of U.S. President Joe Biden, by an F-16 also using a Sidewinder missile. “Its path and altitude raised concerns, including that it could be a hazard to civil aviation,” the statement said.
CNN, citing an unnamed U.S. official, said the object was “octagonal” with strings hanging off and no discernible payload.
But Pentagon officials said, despite close scrutiny of radar activity, it’s not clear what the objects are or how they stay in the air. “We’re calling them objects, not balloons, for a reason,” General VanHerck said.
The objects have been brought down in remote locations, or over water, to reduce the danger of falling debris. But winter weather has complicated the recovery of wreckage to determine their design and purpose.
The surveillance balloon downed on Feb. 4 into the waters off South Carolina, has been located mostly intact, according to reports, but rough waves have delayed its retrieval until Monday at the earliest.
The second object was shot down Friday over the North Slope of Alaska, the northernmost part of the state on the Arctic Ocean, where temperatures, with the wind chill, reached -44 degrees Celsius on the weekend.
In Yukon, the Canadian recovery team have headed into rugged wilderness to find the third flying object.
“There is still much to know about it,” Mr. Trudeau said, in brief comments to reporters, before leaving for a pre-scheduled trip to Whitehorse. “That is why the analysis of this object is going to be very important.”
STEVEN CHASE, SENIOR PARLIAMENTARY REPORTER
The Globe and Mail, February 12, 2023