- A US warplane shot down a new flying object near the Canadian border.
- President Joe Biden ordered an F-16 fighter to shoot down the latest object.
- China maintains that the first object was a weather balloon that was blown off course.
Washington: A US warplane shot down a new flying object near the Canadian border on Sunday, the latest of three mysterious devices spotted since military radar settings were cranked up in the wake of the downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon.
Americans have been watching the sky with bated breath as the unexplained incursions unfolded amid a backdrop of high tensions with China — but only the first object has so far been traced to Beijing.
The Pentagon said on Sunday that it still doesn’t know what the other three objects are — one shot down Friday over Alaska, one Saturday over Canada’s Yukon territory, and the most recent one Sunday over Lake Huron.
However, it stated that the object that was downed on Sunday had been monitored for nearly a day and did not resemble the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that was destroyed off the coast of the United States on February 4 after transiting the country.
President Joe Biden ordered an F-16 fighter to shoot down the latest object “out of an abundance of caution,” a senior administration official said.
Octagonal structure with strings
The object was described by the official as an octagonal structure with strings hanging off it.
It might have posed a hazard to civil aircraft while drifting at around 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) over Michigan, according to the official.
General Glen VanHerck, Commander of US Northern Command, told reporters that when aircraft were sent up to assess the newest object, they found that there was no evidence of any threat, as there had been with the other objects.
“What we are seeing is very, very small objects that produce a very, very low radar cross-section,” he said.
He declined to characterize the objects’ appearance or size but said they were moving very slowly, approximately the speed of the wind.
In recent days, speculation over what the items could be has erupted.
“I will let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out,” VanHerck told reporters when asked if it was possible the objects are aliens or extra-terrestrials.
“I haven’t ruled out anything at this point.”
According to Assistant Secretary of Defense Melissa Dalton, the objects shot down since Friday were spotted after US air defense altered radar settings to check for smaller and slower-moving objects.
“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 at least partly explain the increase in objects that we’ve detected over the past week,” she told reporters.
She stated that they are aware of items drifting at such heights that are operated in the air by scientific institutes and commercial organizations.
“But because we had not been able to definitively assess what these recent objects are, the president wanted to act out of an abundance of caution to protect our security and interests,” she said.
Currently, operations are underway to recover all four objects, according to Dalton.
Officials in Canada described the shot down over Canada’s far northwest on Saturday as small and cylindrical, around the size of a Volkswagen automobile.
Officials stated that recovery workers, aided by a Canadian CP-140 patrol aircraft, were continuing their search for wreckage in the Yukon on Sunday.
US troops were grappling with Arctic weather as they searched near Deadhorse, Alaska, where the second item was shot down on Friday.
Operations were also underway off the coast of South Carolina, where the previous week’s drama culminated when the first huge balloon was shot down.
China relations tense
China maintains that the first object was a weather balloon that was blown off course.
Because of the event, Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a long-planned diplomatic mission to Beijing.
On Sunday, a senior Republican accused Beijing of “belligerence.”
“It was done with provocation to capture intelligence data and intelligence on our three major nuclear installations,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said CBS.
Dalton stated that after being rebuffed by Beijing for several days, US authorities have now talked with Beijing about the purported surveillance balloon.
“There have been contacts made with the PRC on the high-altitude balloon,” she said.
Soon after the balloon was shot down, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requested a meeting with Chinese counterparts.
The Chinese Defense Ministry stated Thursday that it had declined the contact because of Washington’s “irresponsible” action to shoot down the balloon.
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