The U.S. Shot 4 Objects Out of the Sky in Nine Days. What to Know.

The Washington Post
An unidentified object was shot down over Canada’s Yukon territory on Feb. 11, the third such incident in North America this month, sparking national security concerns and further straining China’s relations with the West.

Four unusual aircraft have been shot down by U.S. fighter jets over North America this month, incidents that have alarmed U.S. and Canadian lawmakers and ignited debate over the safety of the continent’s skies.

Three of the objects, which officials say violated Canadian and American airspace, were downed by F-22s, and debris is being analyzed by experts to glean more details. The fourth object was downed by an F-16.

Here’s a timeline of what happened and everything we know about the objects so far.

Feb. 4: Chinese surveillance balloon, shot down off South Carolina

On Jan. 28, a mysterious floating object entered American airspace, although U.S. officials did not acknowledge the balloon publicly until Feb. 2.

On Jan. 30, the balloon entered Canadian airspace before floating back over the United States on Jan. 31, in northern Idaho.

On Feb. 1, President Biden authorized the military to take down the balloon, instructing the Pentagon to act “as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives.” With a single missile, an F-22 Raptor shot down the balloon off South Carolina’s coast on Feb. 4.

The U.S. intelligence community identified the object as a Chinese spy balloon and linked it to a surveillance program run by China’s People’s Liberation Army. The Pentagon said the object was being used to gather intelligence on U.S. military installations.

The incident has further strained the relationship between the two nations. Chinese officials said the object was a data-gathering weather balloon that strayed into U.S. airspace, and China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Feb. 5 that the downing was “a clear overreaction” and “a serious violation of international practice.”

U.S. officials said earlier this month that a second suspected spy balloon was spotted over Latin America and that a third is probably operating elsewhere.

Feb. 10: ‘High-altitude object’ downed over Alaska

A pair of F-22 Raptors took down an object roughly the size of a small car over the coast of northeastern Alaska on Friday. Biden was notified about the second object the day before and ordered the hit, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

Fighter aircraft were dispatched to observe the object more closely, soon determining that there was no pilot onboard, he said.

The Pentagon said the object posed a threat to civilian air traffic because it operated at an altitude of 40,000 feet, unlike the balloon, which flew at 60,000 to 65,000 feet. It was shot down and landed in freezing territorial waters.

Kirby said that the military action was taken out of an “abundance of caution” and that officials do not know where the object came from or why it was floating in U.S. airspace.

“We don’t know what entity owns this object,” Kirby said Friday. “There’s no indication it’s from a nation or an institution or an individual.”

The recovery operation, complicated by winter weather, is underway.

Feb. 11: ‘Cylindrical’ object shot down over Canada

An F-22 Raptor shot down a “high-altitude airborne object” over Canada’s Yukon territory on Saturday, the third craft to be intercepted by the military in eight days.

NORAD, the organization made up of U.S. and Canadian military personnel to safeguard North America’s skies, first detected the object on Friday evening, and it was monitored by officials on Friday night and Saturday.

Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand said the mysterious object was “cylindrical in nature.”

An AIM-9X Sidewinder missile was used to down the object following a discussion between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Anand, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday on Twitter that he had spoken to Biden and ordered the takedown of the object, which “violated Canadian airspace.” Flights were temporarily restricted in northern Montana on Saturday night.

“Canadian and U.S. aircraft were scrambled, and a U.S. F-22 successfully fired at the object,” Trudeau said. Ryder said that Canadian forces would work alongside the FBI to examine the remains of the object.

Biden was “continually briefed by his national security team,” a statement from the White House said Saturday amid news of the third mysterious object.

Feb. 12: Object tracked over shot down over Lake Huron

An F-16 shot down an unidentified object at 2:42 p.m. Sunday. Military officials assessed the object was not a threat and continued to track it across Michigan’s upper peninsula before shooting it down.

The military first made contact with the object at 4:45 p.m. on Saturday about 70 miles north of the U.S. border in Canada. Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, who oversees the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said he scrambled two F-15 fighters from Portland, Ore., to investigate. At 6 p.m. the object crossed into U.S. airspace. The fighters were in position minutes later, but the sun set. The pilots and radar technicians lost the object.

Then on Sunday, radar picked up the object near Montana and tracked it across Wisconsin. The pilot fired a AIM-9X Sidewinder and downed the object about 15 nautical miles north of the upper peninsula in Lake Huron.

The recovery is being handled by the FBI on the American side of the lake, and by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on that country’s side, VanHerck said.