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Four shootdowns in skies over America rattle nerves, raise questions

Octagonal object Sunday over Lake Huron shot down out of "abundance of caution" to ensure civilian aviation safety.

Published: February 12, 2023 8:21pm

Updated: February 13, 2023 6:19am

A flurry of military activity in the skies over America has raised aviation safety concerns to one of their highest levels since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and left members of Congress and security experts grasping for answers.

The latest object to raise alarm was shot down Sunday over Lake Huron out of an abundance of caution to ensure the safety of civilian aircraft, officials said.

The shootdown by U.S. military aircraft was the fourth in less than two weeks.

While the first object shot down more than a week ago has been confirmed to be a Chinese espionage balloon, the three subsequent objects remain a mystery to most in America.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday that an object shot down Saturday over Canada was likely a balloon.

Officials said the object shot down Sunday in the Midwest appeared shaped like an octagon with strings hanging from it.

"They informed me that an F-16 using an AIM-9 missile had shot down an octagonal structure over Lake Huron," Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) said in a phone interview aired by Fox News. The altitude was about 20,000 feet.

The unprecedented military activities over U.S. skies left many members of Congress demanding answers. The military and FBI were combing wreckage for clues.

"As long as these things keep traversing the U.S. and Canada, I'll continue to ask for Congress to get a full briefing based on our exploitation of the wreckage," said Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.).

Some Republicans have expressed concerns about the lack of briefings and whether the shootdowns are an overreaction.

"There's been space junk, weather balloons, spy balloons, and military advancements for years," Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeted Sunday evening. "All of sudden world super powers are shooting unidentified objects down.

"This looks like a testing of military prowess. Lack of evidence and briefings are extremely noticeable."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman James Turner, R-Ohio, said the Biden administration needs to do more to tell both allies and adversaries how we will defend our airspace.

“I would prefer them to be trigger-happy than to be permissive. But we’re going to have to see whether or not this is just the administration trying to change headlines. But what I think this shows, which is probably more important to our policy discussion here, is that we really have to declare that we’re going to defend our airspace,” Turner said.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the House Foreign Affairs chairman, approved of sanctioning Chinese companies but said more needs to be done to secure America on land and in the air.

“We’re a great nation. And the fact of the matter is, unfortunately, this administration has chosen not to secure the border. He can’t even control and secure our airspace now, it looks like,” he said.

The object downed Sunday was likely to have been the same object that was seen over Montana on Saturday, according to Gen. Glen VanHerck, the commander of the US Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

VanHerck told reporters the object was first spotted around 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, which led to F-15 fighters and a KC-135 tanker being sent to investigate before it crossed into U.S. airspace hours later, according to CNN.

"We monitored the track of interest as it passed over Lake Michigan," he added. "We assessed that it was no threat, physical threat, military threat ... to critical infrastructure. That's my assessment and continues to be today."

The objects were taken down out of an "abundance of caution," said Melissa Dalton, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and hemispheric affairs.

"Because we have not yet been able to definitively assess what these recent objects are, we have acted out of an abundance of caution to protect our security and interests," Dalton said.

"The spy balloon from the PRC was, of course, different in that we knew precisely what [it] was," she 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."

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