A US F-16 fighter jet shot down another airborne object over Lake Huron on Sunday afternoon at the direction of President Joe Biden, the Pentagon said.
Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the object was not assessed to be a military threat, but it was a flight hazard.
“We did not assess it to be a kinetic military threat to anything on the ground, but assess it was a safety flight hazard and a threat due to its potential surveillance capabilities. Our team will now work to recover the object in an effort to learn more,” Ryder said.
Melissa Dalton, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs, echoed that sentiment Sunday night, telling reporters the objects were taken down out of an “abundance of caution.”
“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 detected over the past week,” Dalton said, referring to a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon taken down by F-22s off the coast of South Carolina last weekend.
She added that high-altitude objects can be used by a range of companies, countries, and research organizations for “purposes that are not nefarious, including legitimate research.”
The operation marks the third day in a row that an unidentified object was shot down over North American airspace. An unidentified object was shot down over northern Canada on Saturday. On Friday, an unidentified object was shot down in Alaska airspace by a US F-22.
“The spy balloon from the PRC was of course different in that we knew precisely what was,” Dalton said. “These most recent objects do not pose a kinetic military threat, but their path in proximity to sensitive DoD sites and the altitude that they were flying could be a hazard to civilian aviation and thus raised concerns.”
Ryder said the object shot down Sunday was the same one that radar detected on Saturday over Montana that caused airspace to briefly close in the evening.
“North American Aerospace Defense Command detected the object Sunday morning and has maintained visual and radar tracking of it. Based on its flight path and data we can reasonably connect this object to the radar signal picked up over Montana, which flew in proximity to sensitive DOD sites,” he said.
The object was flying at 20,000 feet over Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a senior administration official told CNN on Sunday. It was “octagonal” with strings hanging off and no discernible payload, according to the official and another source briefed on the matter.
The path of the object and its altitude raised concerns that it could pose a threat to civilian aircraft, but it did not pose a military threat to anyone on the ground, the official said.
Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan said Sunday that the operation to down the object over Lake Huron was carried out by pilots from the US Air Force and the National Guard.
“Great work by all who carried out this mission both in the air and back at headquarters. We’re all interested in exactly what this object was and it’s purpose,” she said in a tweet.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she’s been in contact with the federal government after the takedown.
“Our national security and safety is always a top priority. I’ve been in contact with the federal government and our partners who were tracking an object near our airspace. I’m glad to report it has been swiftly, safely, and securely taken down,” the Democrat tweeted. “The @MINationalGuard stands ready.”
This story has been updated with additional information.
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