U.S. jet downs unidentified object over Canada
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he ordered the mission after talking with President Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau jointly made the decision to shoot down an unidentified object violating Canadian airspace, according to statements released Saturday.
After the North American Aerospace Defense Command discovered the cylindrical object Friday evening, Canadian and U.S. jets intercepted it, and a U.S. F-22 — deployed for the third time this week — shot it down Saturday afternoon.
Biden and Trudeau made the decision to shoot down the object “out of an abundance of caution and at the recommendation of their militaries,” a White House statement said.
“I ordered the take down of an unidentified object that violated Canadian airspace,” Trudeau tweeted Saturday. “@NORADCommand shot down the object over the Yukon. Canadian and U.S. aircraft were scrambled, and a U.S. F-22 successfully fired at the object.”
“I spoke with President Biden this afternoon. Canadian Forces will now recover and analyze the wreckage of the object. Thank you to NORAD for keeping the watch over North America,” Trudeau added.
The latest incident comes a day after another F-22 downed an unidentified cylindrical object over Alaska airspace, which is currently being recovered by the U.S. military near the Alaskan town of Deadhorse.
The intercepts follow the cross-country saga earlier this month when a Chinese surveillance balloon overflew the U.S. from Montana to South Carolina, before it was downed over the Atlantic.
The U.S. Defense Department confirmed that NORAD detected the object over Alaska on Friday evening.
“As Canadian authorities conduct recovery operations to help learn more about the object, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be working closely with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.
Canada’s Defense Minister Anita Anand said that she and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had discussed the incident. “We’ll always defend our sovereignty together,” Anand said in a tweet on Saturday.
“This was the first time that a NORAD operation has downed an aerial object,” Anand said in a press conference Saturday evening.
The object, the Canadian defense minister said, appeared to be a small cylindrical object, smaller than the one that was shot down off the coast of North Carolina last week. Flying at roughly 40,000 feet, the object posed a “reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight,” she said.
Anand said it was downed at 3:41 p.m. ET about 100 miles from the U.S.-Canada border in central Yukon. Both U.S. and Canadian aircrafts were involved in the operation. American F-22s were launched from the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage and Canadian F-18s from Cold Lake, Alberta. Canada’s Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre confirmed a AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, from the F-22, downed the object.
Anand did not confirm if the object is from China, saying it’s too early to determine where it came from.
Anand had met with Austin in Washington on Friday where the spy balloon shot down over the Carolinas was on the agenda. That balloon was primarily tracked and analyzed through NORAD, she told reporters during a morning briefing. “Last year, we announced the upgrade to our continental defense and NORAD, about C$40 billion [$30 billion],” she added. “This incident highlights the importance of that initiative.”
That upgrade focuses on improving NORAD’s ability to detect and track intrusions into North American airspace, Melissa Dalton, assistant secretary for homeland defense and hemispheric affairs, told a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Thursday.
“We’re taking steps with Canada to augment the existing North Warning System, including the development of a new system of sensors called Crossbow that will enhance NORAD ability to detect approaching airborne threats,” Dalton said.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) commended the U.S. Air Force personnel who shot down the unidentified object in Canadian airspace. Sullivan called for a redoubling of efforts “to recover, exploit and analyze the unidentified aircraft shot down over Alaska and Canada ... to fully understand the nature of the threat we are facing right now,” in a tweet on Saturday.
The FAA announced late Saturday it had closed some airspace above Montana for Defense Department activities. The airspace was reopened a short time later. In a statement, NORAD said it had detected a “radar anomaly” and sent fighter jets to investigate. However, no object was identified that correlated to the radar hits, NORAD said.
Montana Sens. Steve Daines and John Tester both released statements saying they were in contact with Pentagon officials over the incident.
Asked why there were seemingly more balloon downings and related incidents recently, a U.S. official said: “We are being more vigilant now.”
Recoveries of the Chinese balloon in the Atlantic and the unidentified craft over Alaska are still ongoing. NORAD said in a Saturday statement that the work in the High North is being hampered by adverse weather conditions.
“Arctic weather conditions, including wind chill, snow, and limited daylight, are a factor in this operation, and personnel will adjust recovery operations to maintain safety,” the statement said. “Recovery activities are occurring on sea ice.”
White House and Pentagon officials still do not have a positive identification or country of origin of the object shot down over Alaska, and would not confirm that Friday’s incident was a Chinese-made surveillance balloon like the one that was struck off the coast of South Carolina.
Sue Allan, Lee Hudson, Joseph Gedeon, Zi-Ann Lum, Lara Seligman and Alex Ward contributed to this report.