US shoots down ‘octagonal’ flying object

StarAvis Desk
StarAvis Desk
8 Min Read
A suspected spy balloon in the sky over Billings, Montana. Photograph: Chase Doak/AFP/Getty Images

Incident is the fourth flying object downed by US or Canadian jets this month, after the downing of a large balloon claimed by China on 4 February

The US military shot down a fourth flying object over North American airspace in a week on Sunday over Lake Huron in Michigan, confirmed the state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer.

“I’m glad to report it has been swiftly, safely and securely taken down,” she said.

The high-altitude unidentified object, described as an “octagonal structure” with strings attached to it, is understood to have been the same item that was picked up by radar over Montana on Saturday. At the point it was struck by an air-to-air missile launched by F-16 fighter jets, it had been flying across the Great Lakes region at 20,000ft, a height that could have posed a risk to civilian aircraft.

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The Pentagon said the object appeared to have traveled near US military sites and posed a threat to civilian aviation, as well as being a potential tool for surveillance.

The US air force general overseeing North American airspace said the object likely fell in Canadian waters.

Military personnel equipped with specialist diving gear designed for the extreme cold waters of Lake Huron were expected to be deployed quickly to search for pieces of the destroyed object. So far, there is no intelligence on who was controlling the structure or whether it was actually engaged in any spying activities.

The octagon was the fourth unidentified flying object to be downed by US or Canadian fighter jets this month. The extraordinary spate of military interventions began on 4 February when a large balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina. That object was claimed by China, although Beijing has insisted it was involved in innocent weather research.

On Friday, an object about the size of a small car was downed off the coast of Alaska, followed by a similar flying object over Yukon in Canada on Saturday.

General Glen VanHerck, who is tasked with safeguarding US airspace, said on Sunday that the military had not been able to identify what the three most recent objects were, how they stayed aloft, or where they were coming from.

While saying that the US was more closely scrutinising radar since the discovery of the Chinese balloon, VanHerck, told reporters that the three most recent objects were being called, “objects, not balloons, for a reason.”

A defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the military had not seen any evidence that the objects were extraterrestrial.

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US and Canadian military are attempting to recover the other flying objects that were shot down this week. Searches via sea and land are operating amid hostile weather conditions.

The Democratic majority leader of the US Senate, Chuck Schumer, told ABC’s This Week on Sunday that he had been briefed by the White House and that officials were now convinced that all of the first three flying objects were balloons. He put the finger of blame firmly on China.

“The Chinese were humiliated – I think the Chinese were caught lying,” he said. “It’s a real setback for them.”

Hours later a spokesperson for the White House national security council tried to tamp down some of Schumer’s rhetoric, saying it was too early to characterise the two latest flying objects shot down over Alaska and Canada. Definitive answers would have to wait for the debris to be recovered, the official said.

Schumer said that US military and intelligence agencies were “focused like a laser” on gathering information on the flying objects and then analysing what steps needed to be taken to protect American interests in future. He called it “wild” that the US government had no idea about the balloon spying program until just “a few months ago”.

Canadian military are attempting to reach pieces of the unidentified flying object that was taken down within Canadian airspace on Saturday. The vessel fell over a remote, rugged area of Yukon.

The object, described as cylindrical, had been flying at 40,000ft in Canadian territory and was considered a risk to civilian air traffic.

Searches by US military are also continuing in difficult circumstances off the coasts of South Carolina and Alaska in the wake of the two interceptions there. Some debris from the first balloon to be destroyed – the largest of the four objects – have already been retrieved and were being taken to military laboratories for analysis.

Though the Chinese government has admitted ownership of the balloon, the country’s regime has insisted that it was used only for weather research.

The Pentagon has disputed the characterization, saying that early indications suggest that the balloon was carrying powerful equipment that could intercept communications. The balloon, flying at 60,000ft, was tracked by US military for several days as it traversed the national airspace, having initially been spotted off the coast of Alaska on 28 January.

The air force decided to wait until it was over the Atlantic before shooting it down out of concern for civilians on the ground, the Pentagon said.

Schumer defended that decision on Sunday against mounting criticism from Republicans who have castigated the Joe Biden White House for failing to act immediately. By following the balloon across the country, the US had gained “enormous intelligence” on what the Chinese were doing, he said.

Schumer predicted that the entire object would be pieced back together in coming days. “That’s a huge coup for the United States,” he told ABC’s This Week.

The confluence of four downed flying objects in a week has raised tensions and jangled nerves on both sides of the US and Canadian border.

It has also generated political stresses internationally. The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, postponed the first visit to Beijing by a senior American diplomat since 2018 in response to the high-altitude intrusion of the Chinese balloon.

On the Chinese end of the billowing dispute, local news outlets cited by Bloomberg News reported on Sunday that China’s government was preparing to bring down an unidentified flying object said to have been spotted over the port of Qingdao. Fishermen in the surrounding area had been told to be alert, according to the reports.


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