The unidentified object the U.S. shot down Sunday over Lake Huron was the fourth taken down over North America in less than two weeks and the third in as many days.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told ABC News that U.S. officials believe an object shot down Friday over Alaska, as well as the one downed Saturday over Canada, were balloons. So was the object shot down this month off South Carolina, which officials said China was using for surveillance.
A national security spokesperson said the objects over Canada and Alaska “did not closely resemble and were much smaller than” the suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down Feb. 4.
In the wake of the Chinese balloon flight, the U.S. military is looking at a wider range of radar data as it monitors North American airspace, and it is looking at more objects and smaller objects that it might have filtered out as clutter in the past, two U.S. defense officials said.
The Washington Post first reported the shift.
It remains unclear whether the military is now spotting objects that have been present but not noticed or whether there are new aerial objects that were not present before.
A defense official said North American Aerospace Defense Command is looking at more raw radar data than it had been.
“We don’t yet know whether these phenomena have been there for a while and we’re just now seeing them, or if this is new. Between data from object recovery and going through our technical radar data, we are working toward better understanding.”
Here’s what you need to know about the mysterious objects:
Saturday, Feb. 4
An F-22 Raptor shot down a balloon traveling at 60,000 feet with a Sidewinder missile at 2:39 p.m. ET off South Carolina near Myrtle Beach, officials said.
China was using the balloon, which entered U.S. airspace on Jan. 28, for surveillance of strategic sites in the continental U.S., according to the Defense Department.
It was 200 feet tall and estimated to have weighed more than 2,000 pounds, Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, the commander of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, told reporters.
The balloon was able to maneuver — loiter, slow down and speed up. It contained multiple antennas able to gather signals intelligence and solar panels to power them.
The U.S. and China exchanged strong words, with China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry expressing in a statement its “strong dissatisfaction and protest over the use of force” by the U.S.
The ministry has said that the balloon was “a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes,” and that it entered U.S. airspace because of force majeure, or uncontrollable events, a point the ministry reiterated in its statement Saturday, calling it a “completely accidental situation.”
A senior administration official, reacting to China’s statement Saturday, doubled down on the position that the balloon was a surveillance balloon that “purposely traversed” the U.S. and Canada and said that “we are confident it was seeking to monitor sensitive military sites.”
U.S. Northern Command said recovery efforts continue. The FBI is assisting in the effort, which includes Navy vessels.
Friday, Feb. 10
An F-22 fighter jet assigned to U.S. Northern Command using an A9X missile shot down an object flying at about 40,000 feet and described as “roughly the size of a small car” just off northeastern Alaska, near the Canadian border, over the Arctic Sea, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.
Kirby said the U.S. does not know who owns the object, which he declined to call a balloon.
Northern Command fighter pilots took the object down around 1:45 p.m. ET, Kirby said. They were able to determine that it was “unmanned” before they shot it down, he said.
“Success,” President Joe Biden said Friday in response to a question from reporters at the White House.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that he had been “briefed on the matter and supported the decision to take action,” adding, “Our military and intelligence services will always work together, including through @NORADCommand, to keep people safe.”
Debris is being recovered in a mix of ice and snow, and the response has involved Alaska-based units under the direction of Northern Command, along with the Alaskan National Guard, the Pentagon said Friday night.
Northern Command said Saturday that search and recovery operations continued into the weekend.
“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,” it said in a statement. “Recovery activities are occurring on sea ice. We have no further details at this time about the object, including its capabilities, purpose, or origin.”
Saturday, Feb. 11
An F-22 fighter jet shot down an object estimated to be flying at 40,000 feet, which NORAD had been tracking for 24 hours, using an AIM 9X missile over Canada’s Yukon Territory at 3:41 p.m. local time on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s orders, Canadian and U.S. officials confirmed.
The object was described as cylindrical and “potentially similar” to but smaller than the balloon shot down Feb. 4, Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand said.
After U.S. and Canadian military aircraft were sent aloft, a U.S. F-22 shot the object down over the Yukon, Trudeau tweeted Saturday afternoon. The operation was coordinated by NORAD, the combined U.S.-Canada air defense organization.
White House and Pentagon officials confirmed earlier Saturday that the decision was made in consultation with Biden, who was informed about the object Friday.
Trudeau said Sunday that investigators are hunting for the wreckage.
“Recovery teams are on the ground, looking to find and analyze the object,” Trudeau told reporters before he left for a scheduled fundraising event in Yukon.
Schumer told ABC News that U.S. officials believe the object and the object shot down Friday were both balloons.
Anand said debris was being recovered Saturday night. She said that although the object’s origins were not yet known, Canada and the U.S. needed to proceed with “eyes wide open” to the possible involvement of China.
According to a White House readout of Saturday’s call, Biden and Trudeau discussed the importance of recovering wreckage to determine the object’s purpose and origin.
Sunday, Feb. 12
The U.S. military shot down an unidentified object over Lake Huron, two U.S. officials and a congressional source briefed on the matter said.
The officials all said that there are no indications of any collateral damage, that the object went down in the lake and that officials expect to recover it.
Biden directed that the latest unidentified object be shot down, a senior administration official said.
The official said that it was an octagonal structure with strings hanging off and that although there is no indication it had surveillance capabilities, the possibility has not been ruled out.