U.S. military shoots down unidentified object over Great Lakes region
The U.S. military on Sunday shot down another unidentified object, this time over the Great Lakes region, federal and state officials said Sunday.
A congressional source briefed on the matter told CBS News the Defense Department is confident there has been no collateral damage. Later Sunday, the Defense Department confirmed there was no collateral damage.
On Feb. 4, the U.S. downed a balloon over the coast of South Carolina that had drifted across the U.S. over several days. That balloon had originated in China, and the U.S. said it carried surveillance equipment. China has insisted the balloon was an airship that had blown off course and that the U.S. had “overreacted” by shooting it down.
Sunday’s shootdown marked the third unidentified object to be shot down over the U.S. and Canada in three days and fourth overall this month. U.S. officials downed a “high-altitude object” flying over Alaska on Friday, and an unidentified object was shot down by Canada on Saturday.
China on Monday claimed U.S. balloons have entered its airspace “more than ten times” since 2022, Agence France-Presse reports. Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said during a briefing that the U.S. should “change its course and introspect itself rather than smear and accuse China.”
But the White House quickly denied the allegations. “Any claim that the US government operates surveillance balloons over the PRC is false. It is China that has a high-altitude surveillance balloon program for intelligence collection, that it has used to violate the sovereignty of the US and over 40 countries across 5 continents,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson tweeted, referring to China’s formal name of the People’s Republic of China.
Melissa Dalton, assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs, said Sunday that the recent objects did not pose a kinetic military threat, but their path and proximity to sensitive Defense Department sites, and the altitude they were flying, could be a hazard to civilian aviation.
Both Dalton and Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORTHCOM/NORAD), said that the U.S. military has not been able to determine what these objects are. When asked by reporters if the objects could be extraterrestrials, VanHerck said they haven’t “ruled out anything.”
Dalton said that since the original Chinese spy balloon was spotted, the U.S. has been more closely scrutinizing airspace at higher altitudes, including enhancing the radar.
A senior Biden administration official said that NORTHCOM/NORAD on Saturday had detected another radar contact over Montana. By Sunday, NORTHCOM/NORAD re-acquired a radar contact, and detected that the unmanned object from Montana was over Wisconsin and Michigan. VanHerck said it was likely, but not yet confirmed, that it was the same object over Montana and the Great Lakes region.
The object was about 20,000 feet over Lake Huron, the senior administration official said.
The object’s path and altitude raised concerns, the administration official said, and, out of an abundance of caution, President Biden ordered it shot down. There was no indication that the object had surveillance capabilities — but that cannot be ruled out, the official said. It was not assessed to be a military threat to anything on the ground, the official added.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the Michigan National Guard “stands ready,” and that she has been in contact with the federal government about the object.
“I’ve been in contact with DOD regarding operations across the Great Lakes region today,” tweeted Rep. Jack Bergman, who represents Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and other northern parts of the state. “The US military has decommissioned another ‘object’ over Lake Huron.”
Rep. Elissa Slotkin said the “object has been downed by pilots from the U.S. Air Force and National Guard.”
“We’re all interested in exactly what this object was and it’s purpose,” Slotkin tweeted. “As long as these things keep traversing the US and Canada, I’ll continue to ask for Congress to get a full briefing based on our exploitation of the wreckage.”
On Saturday, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily closed some airspace in Montana for “Department of Defense activities,” starting around 4:20 p.m. PT for about an hour.
NORAD later said in a statement that the closure was due to the detection of a “radar anomaly,” and that NORAD “sent fighter aircraft to investigate.” However, the aircraft “did not identify any object to correlate to the radar hits.”
Canada’s Defense Minister Anita Anand tweeted Sunday that they “unequivocally support this action.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told “This Week” on Sunday that it was “wild” that the U.S. was unaware of these balloons until now.
“Now they are learning a lot more,” Schumer said. “And the military and the intelligence are focused like a laser on, first, gathering and accumulating the information, then coming up with a comprehensive analysis of what went on before, what’s going on now, and what could go on in the future. You can be sure that if any, any American interests or people are at risk, they’ll take appropriate action.”
— Eleanor Watson, Faris Tanyos, Rebecca Kaplan, Kristin Brown and Nancy Cordes contributed to this report.
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